BEIRUT: Nine Lebanese hostages held by Syrian rebels for nearly 16 months could be released as early as next week as part of an exchange deal, a security source told The Daily Star Wednesday.
“The negotiations for a swap deal are in their final stage,” said the source, who is familiar with the matter. “Hopefully the hostages will be home before Eid al-Adha,” which starts Tuesday for Sunnis and Wednesday for Shiites.
The source said the hostages would be released in return for two Turkish civilian pilots held captive in Lebanon and a large number of Syrian women prisoners detained by Assad’s regime.
He said all that was left was to agree on the mechanism of the releases.
Eleven Lebanese Shiite pilgrims were kidnapped on May 22, 2012, near Aleppo while returning from a pilgrimage in Iran through Syria. Two have been released so far.
Two Turkish Airlines pilots were kidnapped on Aug. 9 on their way from Beirut’s 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 kidnapping, 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.
General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, who is leading the complex negotiations, has traveled many times to Turkey for talks with Turkish security officials and representatives of the kidnappers.
The hostages are believed held in or near the Syrian border town of Azaz.
Rebel infighting has rocked the area in recent weeks, piling pressure on the kidnappers.