Syria denies holding US journalist Austin Tice

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria on Wednesday denied holding American journalist Austin Tice or other Americans after President Joe Biden accused the Syrian government of detaining him.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Damascus “denies that it has abducted or detained any US citizen in its territories.”

“The United States released misleading and illogical statements from the US President and Secretary of State last week that included baseless accusations against Syria that it had abducted or detained US citizens, including the former US Marine Austin Tice,” the statement read.

Biden’s comments last week came in a statement released by the White House to mark the 10th anniversary of Tice’s kidnapping, which took place while he was in Syria covering his long conflict. Biden’s remarks were the clearest indication so far that the United States is certain that Tice is being held by President Bashar Assad’s government.

“We know for certain that he was detained by the Syrian government,” Biden said in his statement last week. “We have repeatedly asked the Syrian government to work with us so that we can bring Austin home.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday that the US government had pushed Syria to deport all Americans. On the Tice case in particular, he said, the Biden administration has “engaged extensively — and that includes directly — with Syrian officials and through third parties.”

“Syria has never admitted to holding him,” Price said of Tice, adding that “we will not be deterred in our efforts. We will explore all avenues to ensure the safe return of Tice.” Austin.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry denied in its statement that it had secret contacts with American officials on the missing Americans, adding that “any official dialogue with the American government will be public only on the basis of respect for the sovereignty of the Syria”.

In May, Lebanon’s top security official, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, met with US officials in Washington as part of US-Syria mediation efforts for the release of Tice. Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s general security directorate, has negotiated complicated hostage releases in the past.

Tice disappeared shortly after his 31st birthday on August 14, 2012 at a checkpoint in a disputed area west of the capital Damascus. A video released a month later showed him blindfolded and held by gunmen, saying “Oh, Jesus.” He has not been heard from since.

Tice is one of two Americans missing in Syria. The other is Majd Kamalmaz, a psychologist from Virginia, who disappeared in Syria in 2017.

Tice is originally from Houston and his work has been published by The Washington Post, McClatchy newspapers and other outlets. He traveled to Syria to cover the conflict which began in 2011. The war has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced nearly half of the pre-conflict population of 23 million. More than 5 million of them are outside the country.

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Mroue reported from Beirut.

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