BEIRUT: Lebanon vowed Saturday to protect Turkish nationals in Lebanon as authorities stepped up efforts to ensure the safety of tourists in the country, a day after gunmen kidnapped two Turkish Airlines pilots on the airport road in Beirut.
“We will protect Turkish citizens in Lebanon and all the people,” Charbel told reporters after a meeting with Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon Inan Ozyildiz, adding that the search for kidnapped Turkish Airlines pilot Murat Akpinar and his co-pilot Murat Agca was ongoing.
“Lebanon rejects kidnappings and the government is trying with all its might to free them,” he said.
Ozyildiz left without making a statement.
Akpinar and Agca were forced out of a shuttle bus at gunpoint at the Cocodi Bridge, less than a kilometer from Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport, Friday morning. They had been on route to their Beirut hotel at the time of the abduction.
Ankara, hours after the brazen abduction, urged its nationals to leave and avoid travel to Lebanon.
A security source told The Daily Star authorities have responded to the incident by boosting security for tourists, particularly Turkish nationals, in the country.
As a precautionary measure, a list of names of all Turkish tourists presently in the country has been circulated to security and concerned agencies, the source said.
In a further indication of the boosted security, Lebanese security forces accompanied a bus carrying Turkish tourists visiting the east Lebanon towns of Zahle and Baalbek, the source said.
Soldiers deployed along the airport road after the abduction and police could be seen patrolling the Downtown Beirut area where the offices of Turkish Airlines and a Turkish cultural center are located.
The brother of one of the abducted pilots, Irfan Akpinar, voiced trust that Turkey would manage to secure the release of his sibling.
"l trust my government and hopefully we will get a good result,” Anadolu News Agency quoted Irfan as saying.
He said Turkey’s envoy to Lebanon had contacted him and informed him of the latest development in his brother’s case.
"We want to hear good news as immediate as possible," he said.
A group calling itself Zuwwar al-Imam Ali al-Reda has claimed responsibility for the abduction, demanding the release of nine Lebanese Shiites who have been held by Syrian rebels since 2012.
The nine were among 11 Lebanese kidnapped by the Syrian opposition in May 2012 in the Azaz district of Aleppo. They had returned from a pilgrimage in Iran. Only two of them have been released.
Families of the Lebanese have denied involvement in the kidnap of the Turks but voiced support for any action that might bring their case to a close.
They have in the past protested outside the Turkish Embassy and other Turkish institutions in Lebanon, claiming Ankara, which supports the Syrian opposition, can secure the release of their loved ones.
Ozyildiz also met with head Future parliamentary bloc MP Fouad Siniora who condemned the kidnapping, saying the "crime is directed against Lebanon first before Turkey."
"It is a crime that does not represent Lebanon and harms stability and its true purpose is to damage ties between the two countries," Siniora said, according to his office.
As well as urging its citizens to depart Lebanon, Turkey made a decision earlier this month to withdraw the bulk of its U.N. peacekeeping troops.