Syrian captors release Lebanese hostage: Turkish official
BEIRUT- Agence France-Presse
Shiite masked gunmen from the Meqdad clan, gather at the Meqdad family’s association headquarters in Beirut. REUTERS photoOne of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims taken hostage by Syrian rebels in May has been released and is now in Turkey, a Turkish foreign ministry spokesman told AFP today.
Hussein Ali Omar "has arrived in Turkey and we are doing our best for his return to Lebanon," said the spokesman who requested anonymity.
The spokesman added that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had informed Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and parliament speaker Nabih Berri about the development.
Following the phone call, Mikati voiced hope that the remaining pilgrims would be freed, Lebanon's National News Agency said.
Omar first appeared in a video aired by Al-Jazeera television on Saturday, crossing the border into Turkey and then praising his captors on the Doha-based channel, insisting he and the others were "guests, not captives." "We call on the Lebanese people and the dormant Arab peoples, to stand up and support this oppressed people of Syria," he said in the footage.
The captors said in a statement that Omar was released as a "goodwill gesture" in response to a request by a group of Lebanese Muslim clerics, as well as a request by an unnamed aide to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
But the speaker said the release does not mean the captors have abandoned an earlier demand for Lebanon's Shiite militant group to "determine its position regarding the Syrian people and the Syrian revolution." Iran and Syria-backed Hezbollah is a staunch ally of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The statement said the fate of the remaining captives would be determined "after sending letters to countries neighbouring Syria, as well as all Arab and Muslim states, to inform them of the truth about the Syrian revolution." The pilgrims were kidnapped in Syria on May 22 while on their way home from Iran.
Unverified Lebanese media reports that some of the pilgrims had been killed in an air strike on the northern Syrian town of Aazaz earlier this month triggered a spate of violence against Syrians in Lebanon.