Jan 10 2013
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Families of kidnapped pilgrims speak out
10 January 2013
BEIRUT: Hezbollah has always boasted of the allegiance of its supporters and their willingness to sacrifice for the sake of resistance.
But now, seven months after a group of Shiite pilgrims were kidnapped in Syria, nine hostages remain and some of their families are upset with how Hezbollah and its Amal Movement allies have dealt with the matter. During and after Israel’s summer 2006 war against Lebanon, Israel said it was targeting Hezbollah fighters and infrastructure, but destroyed the houses and killed the loved ones of many residents of Beirut’s southern suburbs, the south and the Bekaa. Yet many in these areas voiced their readiness to sacrifice for “Sayyed,” the honorific they use to refer to Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah.
Last May, 11 men – all Shiites and residents of the capital’s southern suburbs – were kidnapped by Syrian rebels in Aleppo while returning from a religious pilgrimage to Iran.
Now, some family members are irritated with the parties, both of which enjoy strong Shiite support.
Nasrallah said last August that his party had decided not to talk about the hostages in the media so that its comments could not be exploited to delay their release. He said the government should work on freeing them.
“If these [hostages] are paying the price for being considered close to Hezbollah ... then Hezbollah and Amal should work on releasing them. They should not abandon us and leave us protesting in the streets alone,” Zogheib told The Daily Star.
Hezbollah is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“They should have handled this issue with the government and with other countries that are involved. [Hezbollah] have power, unlike us,” Zogheib added.
According to Zogheib, Hezbollah and Amal formed a follow-up committee that met with officials during the first two months after the kidnapping.
“But they completely stopped all these efforts after every action taken by the families was interpreted by the rebels as engineered by Hezbollah ... we felt we were being fooled.”
Zogheib also lashed out at President Michel Sleiman, saying he turned away the abductees’ families when they asked for help.
“When a delegation from the families visited [Sleiman] at Baabda Palace last year, he said: ‘Why are you visiting me? Go and ask your parties for help.’
“Is this a state that cares about its people?” asked Zogheib.
A Baabda Palace source told The Daily Star that Sleiman’s remarks were taken out of context and that he never told the families to “go and ask your parties for help.”
Zogheib argued that Hezbollah and Amal should be pushing for the government to help resolve the issue.
“Is it my responsibility to go and ask a minister about updates after seven or eight months [of kidnapping]? Isn’t it the obligation of the speaker [and Hezbollah] to ask the Cabinet of which they are part [about efforts it is making] and hold it accountable?”
“Over the past eight months, I haven’t seen a single minister from Hezbollah, Amal or other parties asking about updates,” Zogheib said.
The families have held several protests to pressure for the release of the hostages: near the Turkish embassy, the base of Turkish peacekeepers in the south, Turkish Airlines, the Qatari Embassy, the Interior Ministry and they have blocked the road to Rafik Hariri International Airport more than once. They will next protest Thursday near the Qatari embassy.
The families believe that Turkey and Qatar, both of whom back the Syrian rebels, could help free their relatives.
Zogheib said Hezbollah has opposed most efforts to garner attention for the hostages’ plight. “Hezbollah and Amal were the first groups to oppose most of the protests we made. They tried to prevent us from taking action against the base of the Turkish U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon.”
Zogheib believes Hezbollah does not want them to protest against a government the party is a member of. “But we have decided not to tie our actions to any party ... our kidnapped relatives would have to wait for 40 or 50 years in captivity if we waited for our parties or the state to take action,” he said.
“I need to bring my father back even if I have to confront everybody.”
In November, some of the families went to central Beirut where a sit-in organised by March 14, a coalition calling for the Hezbollah-backed government to resign, has been since October.
“Many parties, particularly Amal and Hezbollah, blamed me for going to Riad al-Solh Square,” Zogheib said. “I oppose many of the political views of the March 14 coalition, but this should not prevent the Lebanese from agreeing on calling for the release of hostages.”
But not all families with captive relatives are angry with Hezbollah. Hayat Awali, the spokeswoman for the families of two hostages – Abbas Shoaib and Ali Termos – has not taken part in many of the recent protests.
“Hezbollah never fails to take stances to support and protect its people, but it fears that if it interferes in this case, some will suspect that the kidnapped are close to Hezbollah and the [issue would be further complicated],” Awali said.
“We do not have a problem within our sect, we are not upset with Hezbollah ... this issue should be handled by the state,” she added.
And even though he is frustrated with how Hezbollah and Amal have dealt with the kidnapping, Zogheib remains a staunch backer of Hezbollah’s resistance against Israel.
“For us, Hezbollah represents resistance against Israel and he who abandons resistance has no honor,” he said.© Copyright The Daily Star 2013.
© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.
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