Lebanese general was in Syria over missing American reporter

BEIRUT (AP) — A top Lebanese security official said Saturday that he visited Syria for two days to speak with officials there about American journalist Austin Tice, who has been missing in the war-torn country since 2012.

Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim did not give further details in an interview with the local Al-Jadeed television channel, but his comments came two weeks after his return from Washington where he is believed to have discussed Tice’s case with U.S. officials.

“After my visit to Washington, I went to Syria for two days and discussions over this matter are continuing and will continue,” Ibrahim said, referring to Tice’s disappearance.

Tice, of Houston, Texas, disappeared at a checkpoint in the contested western Damascus suburb of Daraya on Aug. 14, 2012. A video released a month later showed him blindfolded and held by armed men. He has not been heard from since.

Tice is a former U.S. Marine who has reported for The Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, CBS and other outlets, and disappeared shortly after his 31st birthday.

Ibrahim’s comments came as the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported Saturday that the U.S. Congress could impose sanctions on him, under a new bill being considered. Ibrahim in recent years has helped to facilitate the release of a U.S. citizen held in Syria, and a Lebanese-American who was held in Iran.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions in recent months on Lebanese politicians including allies of the militant Hezbollah group. Washington has listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization since 1997 and sees the group as a proxy for its archenemy Iran in the region.

Ibrahim said that U.S. sanctions wouldn’t stop him from working on Tice’s case.

“I have promised Austin Tice’s mother whom I met in Washington and speak with her by telephone on a daily basis that neither sanctions nor anything else will affect work over the case of her son,” he added.

In late October, Trump administration officials said that Kash Patel, a deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, made an unusual, secret visit to Syria for high-level talks aimed at securing the release of Tice and U.S. citizen Majd Kamalmaz, a 62-year-old clinical psychologist from Virginia, who disappeared in 2017 and is believed to be held in a Syrian government prison.

The Syrian government has not publicly acknowledged knowing anything about his whereabouts.

U.S. envoy to Syria James Jeffrey, who resigned from his post earlier this month, said that Tice is believed to be alive and held hostage in Syria. He didn’t say why officials believe this or who might be holding him.