BEIRUT: Relatives of the Lebanese hostages in Syria voiced cautious optimism Tuesday after receiving assurances that their kins’ release was imminent, but appeared wary of celebrating prematurely after past efforts failed.
Media reports surfaced that the nine Lebanese who were kidnapped on May 22 last year would be freed in the coming week, raising hope for a reunion in time for the Eid al-Adha Holiday.
“We were informed by [General Security head] Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim that the hostages would soon be freed,” Saeed Saleh, the son of one of the hostages, told The Daily Star. “Let us wait and see what happens next, but we are feeling very hopeful.”
A source close to the case told The Daily Star major hurdles had been overcome in negotiations with the kidnappers, leading to a sense of relief among the relatives and the mediating parties.
“Big obstacles were eliminated from many sides, leading to feelings of relief given that there is now unprecedented seriousness on the case,” the source said.
One of the breakthroughs in the case came with the Syrian authorities’ approval of the release of a female detainee, identified by the source as Tall al-Mlouh, a member of the opposition.
In their most recent demand, the Syrian rebel group holding the hostages said they would release the Lebanese in exchange for the freedom of more than a hundred female detainees held in Syrian prisons.
“We have to keep in mind some developments may lead to the [Lebanese hostages’] release in a few hours, but they might not,” the source said, but “all in all, the atmosphere is more comfortable than at any other time.”
But the families of the hostages were cautious after seeing their hopes dashed several times before, particularly after efforts by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri fell through last year.
Eleven Lebanese Shiite pilgrims were kidnapped last year in the Aleppo District of Azaz while returning from a pilgrimage in Iran through Syria. Two have been released so far.
The families have said Turkey, given its staunch support for the Syrian opposition, should exert more efforts to help secure the release of the Lebanese.
The families have held several protests outside Turkish institutions in Lebanon, including Ankara’s embassy, and warned that Turkish citizens and interests would be the targeted.
Two Turkish Airlines pilots were kidnapped on Aug. 9 on their way from Beirut airport. A Lebanese judge has charged 13 people for the kidnapping, most of them relatives of the Lebanese hostages in Syria.
Though the relatives have denied any role in the abduction, an unknown group claimed responsibility for the abduction of the two Turkish nationals, demanding the release of the nine Lebanese in exchange for their release.A General Security source told The Daily Star that there were positive signs the case would be resolved in the near future but declined to give a specific date.
Saleh, the son of the kidnapped pilgrim, said Ibrahim has been working on resolving the case, returned from a recent trip to Qatar with promising signs that the hostages will be freed. “After his return, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim held talks with President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri, and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and informed them of the outcome of his Qatari visit,” he said.
Saleh also said the hostages had been moved to another location near the border with Turkey as a result of battles between the Free Syrian Army and Islamists in the Aleppo border town of Azaz. – Additional reporting by Jana el-Hassan