PRETORIA – Eyewitness News has learnt that the Syrian government has agreed to free four imprisoned rebel fighters in exchange for the release of South African journalist Shiraaz Mohamed.
The breakthrough is the work of NGO Truth Collective South Africa with the support of Deputy International Relations Minister Nomaindiya Mfeketo and the Syrian government.
A delegation led by the organisation’s director returned this week from a trip to Syria, where they secured proof of life.
They can also confirm that Mohamed is being kept in the city of Idlib.
The journalist was kidnapped near the border with Turkey as he was returning home last month after accompanying the Gift of the Givers humanitarian mission.
Director of Truth Collective South Africa Bakar al-Maharmeh says Mohamed is being held by the Jabhat al-Nusra rebel group, which has demanded the release of four fighters in exchange for their hostage.
Al-Maharmeh says although the Syrian government was reluctant at first they have agreed to the swap.
“It’s like really hard for them to accept this offer. I’ve seen a video of those terrorists shown to me in Damascus. What they’ve done, and said they’re willing to do is because South Africa was there when they needed them.”
He says the rebels have refused to negotiate with Gift of the Givers and Turkey.
“Some people on the side of Turkey who brought Shiraaz to Syria, they’re trying to get him to the side of Turkey, which is why the rebels aren’t interested to give him over to that side because they want their friends to be out. So they’re willing to deal with the Syrian government better than the Turkish side.”
Al-Maharmeh will depart for Syria next month to secure Mohamed’s release, in an effort bring him home safely.