Lebanon asks Turkey to increase pressure for liberation of hostage pilgrims

Lebanon asks Turkey to increase pressure for liberation of hostage pilgrims

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Lebanon asks Turkey to increase pressure for liberation of hostage pilgrims

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati held a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara on Wednesday. Before his meeting with Erdoğan, Mikati and a Lebanese delegation visited President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu at the presidential palace. AA photo

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati asked Turkey to increase its pressure on the Syrian opposition for the release of nine Lebanese, Shiite pilgrims abducted in May of last year near the town of Azez in northern Syria, during a bilateral visit in Ankara on Jan. 30.

“We discussed the common regional problems and we touched on the subject of the Lebanese citizens kidnapped in Syria. I indicated that Turkey has the power to put pressure on the group who perpetrated this [crime]. My opinion is that if pressure can be levied on those who perpetrated this action, [the pilgrims] can be liberated,” Mikati said in a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Syrian opposition groups linked with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) kidnapped a group of 11 Lebanese, Shiite pilgrims travelling to Iran after they crossed into Syria from Turkey in the spring of last year. Two pilgrims have been released thanks to the intervention of Turkish diplomats, however, nine are still being held hostage. The abduction has raised tensions in Lebanon, a country divided between Shiites and Sunnis, who are at odds regarding the Syrian issue. It also triggered a wave of kidnappings and many Turkish citizens have openly been targeted by groups asking for the liberation of the abducted pilgrims.

Erdoğan told reporters during the press conference that Turkey was pursuing efforts for the liberation of the Lebanese pilgrims. “In [our] dealings with Syrian oppositions groups, we ask them to show the same sensitivity that all of you are showing so that the abducted Lebanese [citizens] can be reunited with their families,” said Erdoğan. 

'Lebanon suffered much at the hands of Syria'
Erdoğan emphasized that Turkey’s aid to the Syrian opposition was limited to shelter, food, medicine and clothing, adding that any other type of assistance “did not originate from Turkey.” The Turkish prime minister also underlined that his government supports Lebanon’s position on Syria, but that Turkey played an important function for the withdrawal of the Syrian Army from Lebanon. “Who helps the Syrian regime stand despite the Syrian people? You also need to ask this question. This is what I would have expected from Lebanon, because Lebanon did suffer a lot from Syria. Back then we made a lot of requests to Bashar al-Assad and then he withdrew his soldiers,” he said.

Mikati also stressed that Turkish-Lebanese relations were “strong and sincere.” “I personally have a very special friendship with Prime Minister [Erdoğan],” he said.

Regarding Israel’s strike on a Syrian convoy near the Lebanese border, Mikati said he had heard the news during meetings and had yet to be briefed by the Lebanese Armed Forces.