Syria Denies Holding Journalist Austin Tice

After 10 years of the kidnapping and disappearance of American journalist Austin Tice near Damascus, the Syrian government has denied holding him or any American nationals captive.

Syria’s foreign ministry issued a statement back in mid-august in response to United States President Joe Biden’s claims that he knew “with certainty” that Tice “has been held by the Syrian regime”. Biden also called on Damascus to help bring him back.

The Syrian foreign ministry has denied Biden’s accusation, describing it as “baseless allegations” and saying that “the Syrian Arab Republic denies that it has kidnapped or forcibly disappeared any American citizen who entered its territory or resided in areas under its authority.”

As the Daily Beast adds, the Syrian statement added that Tice and others had entered Syria illegally and that the country “emphasizes that any official dialogue or communication with the U.S. government side will only be public and based on the rule of sovereignty and independence and unity of the Syrian Arab Republic’s land”.

Tice, a former Marine, was a 31 years-old freelance photojournalist working for Agence France-Presse, McClatchy News, The Washington Post, CBS, and other news organizations when he disappeared after being detained at a checkpoint near Damascus on August 14, 2012.

A month later he appeared blindfolded in the custody of an unidentified group of armed men in a video. Since then, there has been little news. As Al Jazeera recalls, Tice is one of two Americans who went missing in Syria. The other is Majd Kamalmaz, a psychologist from Virginia, who vanished in Syria in 2017.

Turbulent diplomatic relations

Washington suspended its diplomatic presence in Syria in 2012 at the onset of the country’s civil war. It also maintains sanctions on Syria that broadly restrict the ability of U.S. people to engage in transactional dealings involving the Government of Syria since 2004, the U.S. Department of State explains.

Additionally, the “Government is continuously identifying and designating individuals and entities subject to U.S. sanctions related to Syria, including but not limited to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons and other atrocities against its own peoples”, further adds the Department of State.

Nevertheless, in 2018, U.S. authorities announced a $1m reward for information that would lead to the journalist’s recovery.

Now, Biden has said that “there is no higher priority in my administration than the recovery and return of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad.” Under former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, a White House official was sent on a rare mission to Damascus in 2020, aiming to seek Tice’s freedom, but had no visible results.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Biden’s special envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens, would “continue to engage with the Syrian government” in coordination with the White House.

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