BEIRUT: Jabhat Fatah al-Sham commander near Arsal Abu Mallek al-Talli said that the ceasefire deal with Hezbollah stipulated the release of all rebels from western Qalamoun and any Sunni Syrian refugees who wished to return to Syria.
The statement came in an interview with website Zaman al-Wasl. Talli also described those set to depart Lebanon for Syria under the deal as, "[The fighters and Sunni refugees] who fled torture from Shiite militias and the bad treatment of the Lebanese government."
The commander was quoted as saying that part of the deal included the release of 10 Syrian nationals - 5 in Roumieh Prison and 5 captured by "The Iranian Party in Lebanon," in reference to Hezbollah.
The local head of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as Nusra Front, said the deal had been held up due to disagreements between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah, adding that the negotiations were going through General Security head Brig. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim.
He went on to say that his extremist group was forced to agree to the ceasefire due to the refugee situation in Wadi Hmayyed. "They were being hit by barrel bombs from Syrian warplanes and rockets," Talli said.
Talli added that they were not planning an attack on Lebanese soil. However, he accused Hezbollah of dragging Lebanon into the conflict that was "supported by Iran and proved to be the most dangerous terrorists in the region."
"Iran killed and forced Sunnis to flee, pitting the Arab Shiites against the Sunnis and all other sects in the region," Talli said.
Talli is believed to have been imprisoned in the Syrian regime’s notorious Sednaya prison for 13 years due to extremist activity. He was reportedly released in 2011 following an amnesty issued by Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Talli is thought to have fled the outskirts of Homs after Hezbollah and Syrian regime forces captured the group’s positions, holing up in the Qalamoun Mountains near the Lebanese border in 2014.
Once there, Talli sought to unite opposition groups in the Qalamoun region under a single umbrella to better confront Syrian army troops and their allies, including Hezbollah.
The Jabhat Fatah al-Sham group gained prominence in 2013 after kidnapping 13 nuns from a monastery in the historic town of Maaloula on Dec. 3.
Qatari and Syrian mediation managed to secure the release of the 13 Greek Orthodox nuns on March 10, 2014, at an undisclosed price. More was reportedly paid in exchange for the release of 16 Lebanese servicemen in 2015. Estimates place Talli's money from ransoms at nearly $30 million.