A person briefed about the rescue operation told Middle East Eye online news portal that the royals were a “fundamental part of the swap deal”, refuting claims that Qatar’s role was for “purely humanitarian reasons”.
The Syrian government and militant groups struck a deal in March that envisaged the transfer of 16,000 people from Shia-majority Foua and Kefraya in exchange for the evacuation of militants and their families from al-Zabadani and Madaya towns in the southwestern province of Rif Dimashq.
According to the unnamed source, a Qatari plane was in Iraq’s Baghdad airport on Sunday awaiting completion of the agreement, said the portal which is often cited by The Guardian, The New York Times and the BBC News.
The Qatari hunting party, including members of the al-Thani ruling family, was detained in Iraq in December 2015 after they entered the country to capture falcons and hunt bustards.
Two of the members of the hunting party were freed last week as the agreement neared fruition.
The Guardian quoted sources close to the talks as saying that urgent efforts to secure the release of the remaining royals led to the Syria evacuation plan being finalized.
According to the newspaper, the group that captured the Qatari royals was understood to be Kata’eb Hezbollah, a popular resistance group fighting Daesh militants in Iraq.
Qatar is widely believed to be among the main supporters of Takfiri militants fighting in Syria and Iraq and has therefore drawn harsh criticisms.