Syria on Wednesday denied arresting American journalist Austin Tice or other Americans after President Biden accused the Syrian government of detaining him.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Damascus “denies that it had abducted or is holding any US citizens on its territories.”
“The United States last week issued misleading and illogical statements by the US President and Secretary of State, including baseless allegations against Syria that it abducted or detained American citizens, including former US Marine Austin Tice,” the statement said. ”
Mr Biden’s remarks came in a statement issued by the White House last week to mark the 10th anniversary of the kidnapping of Tice, which occurred while he was covering his protracted conflict in Syria. Biden’s remarks were by far the clearest sign that the US was certain that President Bashar was being held up by Assad’s government.
“We know for certain that he has been captured by the Syrian government,” Mr 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 has pressured Syria to return every American. On Tice’s case specifically, he said, the Biden administration is “largely involved — and directly involved — with Syrian officials and through third parties.”
Price said of Tice, “Syria has never admitted to capturing him, we are not going to back down in our efforts. We are going to pursue every path to get Austin back safely.”
The Syrian Foreign Ministry denied in its statement any covert contact with US officials on the missing Americans, and said that “any official dialogue with the US government will be public only on the basis of respect for Syrian sovereignty.”
In May, Lebanon’s top security official, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, met with US officials in Washington as part of mediation efforts between the US and Syria for Tice’s release. Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s Directorate of General Security, has mediated complex hostage releases in the past.
In May, Mr Biden met with Tice’s parents and reiterated his commitment to working toward “Austin’s long-time return to his family”.
Austin’s mother Debra Tice told CBS News last week that “there’s no reason to believe he’s waiting and hoping and dreaming and planning to walk free.”
“The United States government has worked very hard to convince me that they are working on it,” she said. “My response is: don’t tell me. Show me.”
In the final months of the Trump administration, two US officials – including the government’s top hostage negotiator, Roger Carstens, a former Army Special Forces officer – made a secret visit to Damascus to seek information about Tyce and other Americans who had disappeared in Syria. did. It was the highest level of talks between the US and Assad’s government in years, although Syrian officials did not provide any meaningful information on the tie.
Tice went missing on August 14, 2012 at a checkpoint in a disputed area west of the capital of Damascus, shortly after his 31st birthday. A video released a month later showed him blindfolded and held by armed men saying, “Oh, Jesus.” Since then there has been no hearing from him.
Tice is one of two Americans who went missing in Syria. Another is the Virginia psychologist Majd Kamalamaz, who disappeared from Syria in 2017.
Tice is from Houston and her work was published by The Washington Post, McClatchy newspapers and other outlets. He had gone to Syria to cover the conflict that began in 2011. The war killed hundreds of thousands and displaced nearly half of the pre-conflict population of 23 million. More than 5 million of them are outside the country.