A senior White House official recently flew to Damascus to negotiate for the release of two American hostages, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.
The negotiations were carried out by Kash Patel, a deputy assistant to President Trump. While the talks with the Syrian government appear to be ongoing, Patel secured the release last week of two Americans held by Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen.
Patel’s visit to Damascus marks the first time since 2010 that White House officials have spoken directly with government representatives in Syria. The U.S. ended diplomatic relations with Syria in 2012 after dictator Bashar Assad launched a sweeping crackdown on citizens protesting his continued rule, events that ultimately led to a civil war.
Patel is working to free Austin Tice, a journalist and former marine, and Majd Kamalmaz, a Syrian-American therapist, people familiar with the matter told the Journal. Tice disappeared near Damascus in 2012 while covering the upheaval in Syria as a freelance reporter, while Kamalmaz was stopped at a Syrian government checkpoint while visiting the country in 2017 and has not been heard from since.
The Trump administration “is committed to our dad’s case, and we continue to speak with officials at the highest levels of the U.S. Government to bring dad home,” Ibrahim Kamalmaz, a son of Majd, said on Sunday.
Roughly 400,000-500,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war, after Assad enlisted the help of Iran and Russia to help crush the rebellion against his rule. Millions more have been displaced from their homes, with Syrian refugees fueling a massive migration to Europe.