Turkey sought in hostage case

Turkey sought in hostage case

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey sought in hostage case

Lebanese Shiite protesters block a street in Beirut with burning tires and barricades to protest the kidnapping of Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in Tripoli. REUTERS photo

Lebanese leaders have asked Turkey to help mediate to secure the release of 11 Lebanese Shiites allegedly kidnapped in Syria, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned. 

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour held separate phone conversations with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu late May 22 to help free the Lebanese group, which was on its way home from a religious pilgrimage in Iran when Syrian rebels abducted them. 

The Lebanese leaders and the Turkish minister also discussed the reasons behind the incidents that have been extending the Syrian conflict into Lebanon, a Turkish official told the Daily News.

The Lebanese foreign minister said yesterday that authorities had located the 11 Lebanese pilgrims and that he expected they would be released soon. The pilgrims were abducted by “a splinter group of the armed Syrian opposition,” Mansour said, adding that he had been in touch with a number of Arab officials and his Turkish counterpart to try to secure the captives’ return to Lebanon.

Syria’s state news agency blamed rebels for the kidnapping, while Lebanon’s state news agency said the rebel Free Syrian Army, which is seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, had abducted 13 pilgrims in the northern province of Aleppo.

Arabic-language Asharq Alawsat yesterday quoted Mustafa al-Sheikh, a former Syrian general exiled to Turkey who claims to have influence over rebels on the ground, as saying his Free Syrian Army was not behind the kidnapping.

In a written statement yesterday, the Syrian National Council condemned the kidnapping of pilgrims and demanded their immediate release. “As we consulted with Free Syrian Army representatives in Aleppo, they [said they] had nothing [to do] with the abduction of the Lebanese group,” a member of the council told the Daily News yesterday. The Syrian administration may have kidnapped the pilgrims in order to raise tensions within Lebanon, he added.

The families of the abducted Lebanese Shiites blocked roads in mainly Shiite neighborhoods of Beirut, demanding the release of men they said were being held captive by Syrian rebels. 

 Relatives of those being held said the rebels who seized the bus carrying the pilgrims set the women and elderly men free, but held 13 men to demand the release of insurgents. 

Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah urged his followers not to carry out revenge attacks against Syrians in Lebanon after the kidnappings sparked protests by thousands of people.

Regime forces launched a fierce assault on the rebel bastion of Rastan in central Syria yesterday, raining shells on the town before launching a ground attack, Agence France-Presse reported. Activists, meanwhile, said seven people were killed yesterday in the southern province of Daraa, in Aleppo and in Qusayr in the central province of Homs. 

A loud explosion was also heard in Damascus, activists said, adding that a total of 26 people, including 14 civilians and 12 soldiers, were killed in violence on May 22.