Ankara still trying to locate abducted pilgrims
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
A Lebanese Shiites protests against kidnapping of Lebanese pilgrims in Beirut. AP photoTurkey is keeping up its efforts to discover the whereabouts of a number of Lebanese pilgrims abducted in Syria, a Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News, saying reports that had claimed the group had arrived in Turkey were the result of confusion.
“Our efforts have been focused on finding out who kidnapped them and ensuring their safe return,” the official said yesterday. Asked about reports claiming that the Syrian opposition group that abducted the Lebanese pilgrims was demanding the release of detained opposition members in Syria, the official said Turkey is not playing any role in such negotiations, if any exist.
The pilgrims were snatched in northern Syria on May 22 and Lebanese Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said May 25 that they had been freed and had reached Turkey. Turkey has been receiving “indirect information” about the kidnapped Lebanese citizens, the official said. Despite reports that the pilgrims had been killed, Turkey has received no such information, he said. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati had planned an official visit to Turkey before the incident, but the political atmosphere in Lebanon over the abducted pilgrims may have caused Mikati to postpone his Turkey trip, another Turkish diplomat said.
“The schedule for his visit was confirmed on Wednesday, last week,” the diplomat told the Daily News. The kidnapped citizens are Lebanese Shiite pilgrims. They were initially reported to have reached Turkey, but are still being held in Syria, the head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, said late May 27. “I believe that they are still in Syria,” Ghalioun told a news conference in Istanbul. “We spoke with some parties who had contacts with the group (of captors) and we offered our assistance to have them freed,” said Ghalioun. Ghalioun also claimed that the abducted Lebanese were not civilians but “had participated in (military) training” at some unspecified location. No one has claimed responsibility for the group’s abduction, and Syria’s armed opposition, the Free Syrian Army, has denied any involvement.