Turkey shuts offices as Lebanon crisis mounts
BEIRUT / ANKARA
A picture taken on August 9, 2013 in Beirut shows Lebanese security forces standing guard in front of the Radisson Martinez Hotel, where members of a Turkish Airlines crew are staying. AFP PhotoTurkey has temporarily closed its cultural center and commercial office in Beirut after the kidnapping of two Turkish Airlines pilots amid the capture of a Lebanese man in connection to the abduction and growing fears of further incidents.
“As a safety measure, the Turkish cultural center and commercial office in Beirut have suspended their activities,” Ambassador İnan Özyıldız said, adding that Turkish Airlines’ offices have been operating from Beirut International Airport instead of from their downtown Beirut facility.
“It is very difficult to say anything at the moment,” a Turkish diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News when asked whether they could provide a date for the reopening of the cultural center and commercial office.
Lebanese soldiers in military trucks were seen deployed Aug.12 in the vicinity of Turkish interests, and authorities have been keeping a close watch over Turkish tourists in Lebanon, Lebanese media reported.
Özyildiz welcomed “measures taken by the Lebanese security services to protect Turkish interests” in the Lebanese capital while reiterating that his country “was not involved in the kidnapping of Lebanese [Shiite] pilgrims” in Azaz, northern Syria. Turkish officials have said putting the blame on Turkey regarding futile efforts to secure the release of the nine Lebanese pilgrims being held by Syrian rebels since May 2012 was “unfair and wrongful.”
“Since no group has so far claimed responsibility for the abduction [of the pilots], we may assume it as a fact that the incident is related to demands from Turkey to use its influence with Syria’s rebels to secure the release of the nine Lebanese Shiites kidnapped in Syria in May 2012,” a Turkish diplomatic source has told the Daily News. The pilots, Murat Akpınar and Murat Ağca, were abducted on Aug. 9 as they traveled from the airport to the their hotel in Beirut. A previously unknown group calling itself Zuwwar Imam al-Rida claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but Lebanese officials have not confirmed the claim yet. “We have no [influence] on the issue as the negotiations have, from the very beginning, been conducted by Lebanese authorities. Turkey has already done its best on this issue,” the same source based in Ankara said.
Also Aug.12, the leader of the Lebanese Forces political party, Samir Geagea, accused Hezbollah of involvement in the kidnapping of the pilots, while also reportedly noting that this was “his analysis and was based on confirmed information.” In Ankara, Turkish officials downplayed the remarks, emphasizing that any attribution to any group at this stage would be wrong. Meanwhile, Lebanese security officials detained a man in connection with the abduction.
The officials identified the arrested man as Mohammed Saleh. He was taken into custody late Aug. 11 after allegedly contacting the pilots’ kidnappers. Turkish sources said that officials in Ankara have not yet received any official notification concerning the detention. A Lebanese official told Lebanese the Daily Star that the suspect was among the leads.