The parents of an American journalist who has been missing in Syria for the past five years said on Thursday that they believe he is still alive - and that the U.S. and Syrian governments have assured them they are doing all they can to secure his safe release.
The pair also expressed the family's readiness to deal with any government or group that will help them win the freedom of their son.
Austin Tice, of Houston, Texas, disappeared in August 2012 while covering Syria's civil war. A video released a month later showed him blindfolded and held by armed men, saying "Oh, Jesus." He has not been heard from since.
Debra and Marc Tice said at a news conference in the Lebanese capital of Beirut - ahead of the 5th anniversary of their son's disappearance - that they have "every reason to believe that Austin is alive" and called on those holding their son to reach out to them.
"We honestly do not know who is holding Austin," said Debra Tice. "For us the speculation on that question is less important than for them to reach out and engage with us so that we can ... bring our son safely home."
Last month, the New York Times reported that the Central Intelligence Agency has set up a secret back channel with Syria to try free Austin Tice. Commenting on the report, Debra Tice said the family "can't verify it, but of course we certainly hope that it is true. We support every effort to ask about Austin."
Tice is a former Marine who has reported for The Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, CBS and other outlets, and disappeared shortly after his 31st birthday.
The news conference, the third by the family to be held in Beirut since Austin went missing, was held in a neighborhood south of Beirut, near them main stronghold of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement that has sent thousands of fighters to back Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.
Last year, the Syrian government released Kevin Patrick Dawes, an American freelance photographer it was holding in detention for three years for illegally entering the country.
After Dawes' release, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told The Associated press that the government has no information about Tice's whereabouts.
Speaking about the Trump administration, Debra Tice said the family is "so gratified with how quickly they came up to speed with Austin's situation and fully engaged, wanting to move forward, eager to see him safely home."
Austin's father Marc said that because Austin is an American citizen being held captive in Syria, "we continue to ask the United States government and the Syrian government to make every reasonable effort to locate Austin and to secure his safe release."
"Both of these governments have assured us that they're doing this, but of course the only proof of that commitment will be Austin's safe return to his family," he said.
Source: Voice of America