Sensitive and difficult negotiations with different groups have not made it easy for the nongovernmental organisation (NGO) Gift of the Givers to broker an early release of South African journalist Shiraaz Mohamed held hostage for two years in war-torn Syria.
According to Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, “negotiating on someone’s human life has not been an easy assignment”.
“This time we are very hopeful of brokering a deal. We are currently engaging with religious leaders to provide letters requesting the immediate unconditional release of Shiraaz, to prevent a tragedy.
“We lost Pierre Korkie on the day that his release was secured and Stephen McGowan’s mother passed on one month before he was released. We certainly don’t want to live through another such incident,” said Sooliman.
Mahomed was abducted in Syria while on an assignment and accused of being a foreign spy. Despite his captors having requested $1.5 million (about R21.5 million) for his release, Sooliman was optimistic about reaching a breakthrough with the Syrians holding him.
A call from the abductors for negotiations to commence, following a video received by the NGO on April 26, was “a good sign”.
Sooliman ruled out the payment of the ransom. “We told them that Shiraaz’s family does not have the means,” said Sooliman.
“Neither is Shiraaz an employee of a large company that could assist with the payment, nor will the South African government pay. They said they would give us time to consider options.”
He added: “In a subsequent conversation, we said the figure was too high. They said it was negotiable. They called again last Thursday evening, seemed anxious and said they needed to conclude this deal urgently.
“The Russians were bombing South Idlib and North Hama very aggressively and they said they were afraid that Shiraaz could be killed in the bombing.
We have gone to Shiraaz’s family to explain this new development and possible consequences. This is exactly what Shiraaz was afraid of in the video, where he makes a plea for assistance to secure his release.
“Our hospital in Syria has confirmed that the bombing has increased substantially. The medical administration in Idlib has requested Gift of the Givers Ar Rahma Hospital to be one of the facilities to be on standby to receive patients.”