BEIRUT: Turkey sought Wednesday assistance from Hezbollah over the case of the two Turkish Airlines pilots kidnapped in Beirut last week as Lebanon interrogated four more people over the abduction.
The request for assistance came during a meeting between Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon Inan Ozyildiz and the head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, Nabatieh MP Mohammad Raad.
During the meeting at the MP’s office, Raad, according to a Hezbollah statement, said his party “was concerned with the need to reach a happy ending with those concerned in order to close the case of the kidnapped Turkish pilots and the case of the Lebanese hostages in Azaz [Syria].”
He stressed “he would continue efforts with Lebanese state agencies to this effect.”
Ozyildiz, for his part, said he would follow up on Turkish efforts to help secure the release of the Lebanese being held in Syria.
The meeting came hours after a Turkish delegation held talks in Beirut with caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel.
A source at Beirut airport told The Daily Star that the delegation, led by the deputy chief of intelligence Abdul-Rahman Baljak, arrived late Tuesday, coming from Istanbul.
Charbel stressed during the meeting at the Interior Ministry that the case of the Turkish hostages was of high priority for Lebanon.
“We are seriously following up on the issue at the security, judicial and political levels in order to secure their release and their safe return to their families,” the interior minister told the delegation, according to a statement from his office.
He said top Lebanese officials were “exerting massive efforts to reach a happy ending [to the case].”
Turkey warned Tuesday that the abduction of Turkish Airlines pilot Murat Akpinar and his co-pilot Murat Agca in Lebanon could hamper ties between Ankara and Beirut, urging Lebanese authorities to work on winning the release of the two captives.
The two pilots’ abduction appeared linked to demands for the release of nine Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in northern Syria by rebels last year.
President Michel Sleiman discussed Wednesday both the cases of the Turkish and Lebanese hostages with Ankara’s ambassador to Lebanon.
A statement from the Presidential Palace said talks focused on efforts by Lebanese authorities to ensure the swift release of the Turkish pilots.
Sleiman, according to the statement, also stressed the need for Turkey to intensify its efforts to help free the Lebanese hostages in Syria.
Ozyildiz also met with acting Internal Security Forces chief Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous over cooperation and coordination between Lebanon and Turkey and the general security situation in the country.
Gunmen kidnapped the two Turkish Airlines crew members early Friday shortly after they left the capital’s international airport toward their Beirut hotel.
A judicial source said Wednesday the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch in suburban Baabda summoned four members of the Saleh family for interrogation over the kidnapping.
“The interrogation is still ongoing with the four,” one judicial source told The Daily Star.
Authorities Sunday arrested Mohammad Saleh, a relative of one of the nine Lebanese hostages.
Acting State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud Tuesday extended Saleh’s detention for another 48 hours until the preliminary investigation comes to a close.
The Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch, under the supervision of Hammoud and Judge Claude Karam, the public prosecutor of Mount Lebanon, is interrogating Saleh over his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of the Turkish pilots.
Authorities are also looking for Ali Jamil Saleh, who is believed to be the mastermind of the abduction. Ali Saleh is the son of one of the nine Lebanese hostages held in Syria.
Also Wednesday, Higher Shiite Council deputy head Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan accused Turkey of covering up for the kidnappers of the Lebanese hostages.
“The Lebanese hostages in Azaz are being held under the sponsorship of Turkey, which supports the kidnappers,” Qabalan said during a lecture.
“As Lebanese, we should be patient and reasonable ... and we should be in solidarity with the relatives of the hostages and understand their stances,” he added.
He also urged Lebanese authorities to pressure Turkey for the release of the Azaz hostages.