Jul 18 2012
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Two Lebanese pilgrims to be freed, captors tell Al-Jazeera
18 July 2012
BEIRUT: Two of the 11 Lebanese pilgrims who were kidnapped in Syria will be released, their captors said in a statement carried by Al-Jazeera Tuesday.
“In response to the calls by the committee of Muslim scholars in Lebanon, we will release two of our guests to their families under the auspices of the committee ... and the state of Qatar,” said the statement, which was part of the third video of the hostages that the Doha-based channel has run. The video gave no date for the release.
The 11 men were kidnapped near the northern Syrian province of Aleppo on May 22 while returning from a Shiite religious pilgrimage in Iran.
Most Syrian opposition factions have distanced themselves from the abduction, but the kidnappers have asked Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah to apologize for his support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. A group calling itself “Syrian Rebels in Aleppo” has claimed responsibility.
In their statement, the captors said they held no hostility toward any sect in Lebanon but only objected to a speech by Nasrallah “who has justified the acts of Syrian President Bashar Assad and claimed that what was happening in Syria are just media fabrications.”
Several days after the pilgrims were kidnapped in May, an intelligence report sent from Turkey to Lebanon said that the captives were free and in Turkey. Hours later the report proved to be false. Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Tuesday that the Lebanese government has not been notified of the pilgrims’ release.
Turkish officials also said they could not confirm the information in the video.
Selcuk Unal, the spokesperson of Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that his ministry learned of the possible release from Al-Jazeera, and his government has not received any new information about the captives.
“We have no information, although we are doing our best to ensure their release,” Unal told The Daily Star.
Meanwhile, in Ankara, Sleiman and an official delegation from Lebanon met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss bilateral relations and the issue of the kidnapped pilgrims.
During their meeting, Gul told Sleiman that information from Syria indicates that the abductees are safe and in good health.
Turkish officials also informed Sleiman of Turkey’s decision to extend the Turkish Army’s contribution to the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon. Sleiman also discussed consequences of the unrest in Syria on the countries in the region with his Turkish counterpart.
In an interview with the Association of Kuwaiti Journalists, Sleiman called on the pilgrims’ captors to immediately release them, saying that abducting civilians would not help establish democracy in Syria.
“Why keep them hostage? What have they done? All they did was go on a pilgrimage. They have not done anything wrong, and this move hurts all those demanding democracy,” Sleiman said. “For this reason, I call on them to take the initiative to immediately release the oppressed because this [kidnapping] is not a democratic act and does not help any cause,” he added.
Sleiman and the Lebanese delegation returned to Beirut later Tuesday.© Copyright The Daily Star 2012.
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