Missing American journalist’s parents to travel to Beirut

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The parents of a freelance U.S. journalist who disappeared while covering civil war in Syria said Thursday that they hope upcoming talks aimed at peace between the Syrian government and rebels will hasten his release.

In a statement issued through a family spokesman, Austin Tice's parents said they plan to travel from Houston to Beirut soon “to reach more deeply into the region on behalf of our son.”

The statement is the first issued by the family since a video of Tice was posted online in late September. The 47-second video, which Marc and Debra Tice called “distressing” in their Thursday statement, showed their son blindfolded and saying “Oh, Jesus” in a frightened voice in the custody of armed men.

The video shows Tice trying to recite the Muslim declaration of faith, or shahada, until he switches to English and says, “Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus,” and rests his head on a captor's arm.

The video was the first sign of Austin Tice's condition since he disappeared in August. Tice, a 31-year-old former Marine, had been reporting on Syria's civil war for The Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers and others. He was one of a few journalists reporting from Damascus when he vanished.

His parents said they were uncertain who is holding their son. “Above all, we request that the Syrian government search vigorously for Austin in order to secure his safe return. Soon, we plan to return to Beirut to reach more deeply into the region on behalf of our son,” the Houston couple said.

Their statement details some family celebrations and journalistic honors awarded to Austin Tice since his disappearance. They asked all sides of the Syrian insurrection to “keep Austin in their minds” in peace talks.

The international community had hoped the two sides would start talks next month on a political transition. However, the opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said earlier Thursday that it would not attend a conference, linking the decision to a regime offensive on the western Syrian town of Qusair and claiming that hundreds of wounded people were trapped there.

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