Syria denies holding US journalist Austin Tice, who went missing in 2012

The Syrian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday refuted claims by President Joe Biden that it was holding captive Austin Tice following the US journalist’s disappearance in 2012.

To mark the tenth anniversary of his abduction whilst covering the lengthy, multi-sided conflict in the Middle Eastern country, the White House last week said it was “certain” that Tice was being “held by the Government of Syria.”

However, Damascus responded in a statement saying it “denies” it had “kidnapped or is holding any American citizen on its territories.”

“The US issued last week misleading and illogical statements by the American president and secretary of state that included baseless accusations against Syria that it had kidnapped or detained American citizens including former US Marine Austin Tice,” the statement added.

US wants to ‘bring Austin home’

Washington said it was pressuring Damascus to return US prisoners.

“We have repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us so that we can bring Austin home,” Biden said in a statement last week.

State Department Spokesman Ned Price also commented on Tice on Tuesday, noting that the US government has “engaged extensively — and that includes directly — with Syrian officials and through third parties.”

“Syria has never acknowledged holding him,” Price said of Tice, adding that “we are not going to be deterred in our efforts. We are going to pursue every avenue for securing Austin’s safe return.”

Syrians show solidarity with Ukrainians

Tice family have seen 43 seconds of footage in 10 years

Tice was last seen at a checkpoint in a contested area west of Damascus on August 14, 2012, just days after his 31st birthday.

If Tice has been detained by Syrian government forces, their allies, or other parties to the conflict, it would likely amount to an “enforced disappearance” which would constitute a crime under international law, NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on its website on Monday.

“According to his family, the only information released by his captors has been a 43-second video showing him being held by unidentified armed men,” HRW said.

RSF highlights dangers for journalists covering conflict

Last year, to mark the 10th anniversary of the war that began in the wake of the Arab Spring, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned that at least 300 “professional and non-professional journalists have been killed… covering a war in which 400,000 people have died” at the hands of “both an authoritarian regime and radical armed groups.”

RSF also said the figure regarding the number of journalists who had perished “could in reality be even higher” with many others arrested or kidnapped.

Who’s fighting in the Syria conflict? War with no end Syria has been engulfed in a devastating civil war since 2011 after Syrian President Bashar Assad lost control over large parts of the country to multiple revolutionary groups. The conflict has since drawn in foreign powers and brought misery and death to Syrians.

Who’s fighting in the Syria conflict? The dictator Syria’s army, officially known as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), is loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and is fighting to restore the president’s rule over the entire country. The SAA has been fighting alongside a number of pro-Assad militias such as the National Defense Force and has cooperated with military advisors from Russia and Iran, which back Assad.

Who’s fighting in the Syria conflict? The northern watchman Turkey, which is also part of the US-led coalition against IS, has actively supported rebels opposed to Assad. It has a tense relationship with its American allies over US cooperation with Kurdish fighters, who Ankara says are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighting in Turkey. Turkey has launched multiple military offensives targeting Kurdish militias.

Who’s fighting in the Syria conflict? The eastern guardian The Kremlin has proven to be a powerful friend to Assad. Russian air power and ground troops officially joined the fight in September 2015 after years of supplying the Syrian army. Moscow has come under fire from the international community for the high number of civilian casualties during its airstrikes. However, Russia’s intervention turned the tide in war in favor of Assad.

Who’s fighting in the Syria conflict? The western allies A US-led coalition of more than 50 countries, including Germany, began targeting IS and other terrorist targets with airstrikes in late 2014. The anti-IS coalition has dealt major setbacks to the militant group. The US has more than a thousand special forces in the country backing the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Who’s fighting in the Syria conflict? The rebels The Free Syrian Army grew out of protests against the Assad regime that eventually turned violent. Along with other non-jihadist rebel groups, it seeks the ouster of President Assad and democratic elections. After suffering a number of defeats, many of its members defected to hardline militant groups. It garnered some support from the US and Turkey, but its strength has been greatly diminished.

Who’s fighting in the Syria conflict? The resistance Fighting between Syrian Kurds and Islamists has become its own conflict. The US-led coalition against the “Islamic State” has backed the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias. The Kurdish YPG militia is the main component of the SDF. The Kurds have had a tacit understanding with Assad.

Who’s fighting in the Syria conflict? The new jihadists “Islamic State” (IS) took advantage of regional chaos to capture vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014. Seeking to establish its own “caliphate,” IS has become infamous for its fundamentalist brand of Islam and its mass atrocities. IS is on the brink of defeat after the US and Russia led separate military campaigns against the militant group.

Who’s fighting in the Syria conflict? The old jihadists IS is not the only terrorist group that has ravaged Syria. A number of jihadist militant groups are fighting in the conflict, warring against various rebel factions and the Assad regime. One of the main jihadist factions is Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which controls most of Idlib province and has ties with al-Qaeda.

Who’s fighting in the Syria conflict? The Persian shadow Iran has supported Syria, its only Arab ally, for decades. Eager to maintain its ally, Tehran has provided Damascus with strategic assistance, military training and ground troops when the conflict emerged in 2011. The Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah also supports the Assad regime, fighting alongside Iranian forces and paramilitary groups in the country. Author: Elizabeth Schumacher, Alexander Pearson

jsi/dj (AP, dpa, Reuters)