BEIRUT (AP) — The mother of an American journalist missing in Syria for nearly three years pleaded on Tuesday for information about him, saying she believes that he is still alive.
Austin Tice, of Houston, Texas, disappeared in August 2012 while covering Syria's civil war. A video released a month later showed the journalist blindfolded and held by armed men, saying "Oh, Jesus." He has not been heard from since.
"I am here asking for information and for help to find my son and bring him safely home," Debra Tice said at a news conference in Beirut marking more than 1,000 days since his disappearance. "We know Austin is not being held by any part of the opposition. Still, after all these 1,009 days, we do not know where he is nor who is holding him."
"Someone possibly near this place knows something about my son and his whereabouts," she said. She delivered her statement south of Beirut, near a main stronghold of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement. The armed Shiite group has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to battle alongside President Bashar Assad's troops.
"Are the holders of my son ready to meet face-to-face with one individual alone and let him meet with my son? A friend of the family and known by some Shiite leaders in Lebanon and beyond?" she said.
Christophe Deloire, director-general of Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile urged the U.S. government to have more "periodic direct contacts" with Syrian authorities over Tice.
"The Syrian government denies holding Austin, but we think it can help us bring him back safe and sound," Deloire said.
Tice said "we have every reason to believe Austin is alive. As recently as a few weeks ago and a number of times over the past 33 months credible sources have told us Austin is alive."
"We are grateful to his captors for keeping him well and safe. Can my son be allowed these days to communicate with me by phone while I am in Beirut?" Tice asked.
According to the family, Austin is believed not to be held by the Islamic State group, which has beheaded two American journalists and an aid worker over the past year.
Tice said that for more than two years "we have been urging our government to directly engage with the Syrian government to find our son and secure his release."
The family's request is based on "the fact that Austin went missing in Syria and the sovereign government should have the resources to search for him and to persuade his captors to release him," she added. She also said that the United States and Syria are "communicating directly but more is needed. Communication must be regular and consistent."
Last week, National Security Council Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the United States government will continue "to work tirelessly" to bring Austin to his parents. Meehan added that Washington greatly appreciate the efforts of the Czech government, which acts as the U.S. protecting power in Syria, "on behalf of our citizens, including Austin."
"Because Austin is an American and because he is alive in Syria, we implore both governments to act on this commitment until we have the only measure as success, Austin's safe release," she said.
"I long to hold my son in my arms. I want my family to be whole again."