BEIRUT: Turkey said Tuesday that the abduction of two of its nationals in Lebanon last week could hamper ties between Ankara and Beirut, urging Lebanese authorities to work on winning the release of the two captives.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu voiced his “deep concern over the abduction and the negative repercussions it may have on bilateral relations between the two countries,” to caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, according to the National News Agency.
Davutoglu also expressed hope that Lebanese authorities would work for the release of the Turkish Airlines pilot Murat Akpinar and his co-pilot Murat Agca, who were snatched at gunpoint last week near the Rafik Hariri International Airport.
Hours after the kidnapping, a group calling itself Zuwwar al-Imam Ali al-Reda claimed responsibility for the abduction, demanding in exchange the release of nine Lebanese hostages held by Syrian rebels for over a year.
Davutoglu said Turkey had nothing to do with the kidnapping of Lebanese hostages, adding that it was carried out by Syrians on Syrian territory.
For his part, Mansour said Lebanon opposes kidnappings on its territories, adding that the government was doing its best to release the Turkish pilots. He expressed Lebanon’s eagerness to maintain solid ties with Turkey.
Mansour, however, urged Turkey to make efforts to resolve the case of the Lebanese hostages. Turkey is a major backer of the Syrian rebels.
Also Tuesday, Iran said Turkey had sought its help in securing the release of the pilots.
“In a phone conversation, Davutoglu asked his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi for Iran’s assistance in the search for the Turkish pilots,” Abbas Araqchi, spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said during a news conference in Tehran, according to Farsi Arabic service.
Araqchi, according to the news service, also said that his country would not hesitate to help in locating the hostages in Lebanon if the resources to do so were available.
Sheikh Abbas Zogheib, tasked by the Higher Shiite Council to follow up on the case of the Lebanese hostages in Syria, said Iran should intervene and help release both the kidnapped Turkish pilots in Lebanon and the Lebanese pilgrims in Syria.
He added that Iran’s Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Ruknabadi had told him Tehran was willing to help solve the case.Acting State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud extended the detention of Mohammad Saleh for another 48 hours until the preliminary investigation comes to a close. Saleh is being interrogated over his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of the pilots by the Internal Security Forces Information Branch, under the supervision of Hammoud and Judge Claude Karam, the public prosecutor of Mount Lebanon.
A judicial source told The Daily Star that Saleh divulged the names of the perpetrators who carried out the kidnapping. The source said that after 48 hours, Karam would either press charges against Saleh for involvement and refer him to the investigative judge or order his release.
The Information Branch briefed Hammoud on the investigation into the abduction in the presence of Karam.
Elsewhere, relatives of the nine Lebanese hostages went back on threats to block the airport road to protest Saleh’s arrest.
“The threats we made were a spontaneous reaction. We will not block the airport road, we were told that this act amounts to crossing a red line,” Adham Zogheib, the son of one of the kidnapped Lebanese, told The Daily Star.
Zogheib said that Speaker Nabih Berri stepped in and urged the families to refrain from protesting.
He added that the families would not protest near Turkish institutions in the coming few days. “All the institutions we wanted to protest outside of are now closed.”
Authorities are also looking for Ali Jamil Saleh, who is believed to be the mastermind of the abduction. Saleh is the son of one of the nine Lebanese hostages held in Syria.
The Future parliamentary bloc condemned the kidnapping and urged Hezbollah to help in securing the release of the pilots. “The kidnapping crime took place in a Hezbollah-controlled area and under the eyes of state security bodies. Maybe Hezbollah knows where the hostages are being held and who carried out the crime,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at Hariri’s downtown residence.
“Therefore, it [Hezbollah] has to help to free the two hostages, because there is no doubt that their continued detention will reflect negatively on Lebanon and all the Lebanese,” the bloc added.
The group said that the fact that Hezbollah has not publicly condemned the abduction or attempted to crack down on the kidnappers indicates the extent to which the group is engaged in a “policy of drowning the country in a cycle of blackmail and intimidation.”
The bloc said that the kidnapping of the nine Lebanese pilgrims does not justify the abduction of the two pilots, which it said would not help to resolve the case.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said that Hezbollah was cooperating with the authorities to uncover the identity of the kidnappers.
He made his remarks during a meeting with members of Parliament’s Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee at the airport. The meeting was also attended by Gen. Jean Talozian, the head of the Airport Security.
According to committee members, Charbel’s remarks provoked Future Movement MP Badr Wannous.
Charbel’s raised voice was heard by reporters outside the hall where the meeting took place. After leaving the meeting, Charbel made no remarks.
Higher Shiite Council deputy head Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan met earlier Tuesday with General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, who is negotiating the release of the hostages on behalf of the Lebanese government.
Qabalan said during the meeting that public facilities should remain distanced “from anything that could disrupt them or the daily work of its employees, particularly because our nation is going through a difficult phase.”