BEIRUT: The nine Lebanese hostages who have been held in Syria for over 14 months could be released before the Eid holiday next week, a source acquainted with the case told The Daily Star Thursday.
“The release will happen very soon ... perhaps even before Eid al-Adha holiday [Oct. 15],” said the source, preferring to remain anonymous.
“The optimism that emerged this week in the case of the hostages remains unchanged,” he said, adding that the case “could end in a couple of hours if – and only if – no additional obstacles surface.”
The source said Lebanon’s General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim traveled to Turkey late Thursday, in what could be an indication that the release of the hostages is imminent.
Eleven Lebanese were kidnapped in the Aleppo district of Azaz on May 22, 2012, while on their way back from a pilgrimage in Iran. Two of the hostages have since been released.
The Shiite pilgrims were recently moved to an area near the border with Turkey during clashes between Islamists and other rebel forces, Lebanese officials have said.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel reiterated Thursday his optimism that the case would be resolved soon.
“Optimism is at its highest,” Charbel told reporters after meeting with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
“While I cannot pinpoint the date of their release I am relieved and happy about this subject,” he said.
Relatives of the nine Lebanese have repeatedly urged Turkey to help in securing the release of their loved ones, arguing that Ankara’s support for the Syrian opposition and its proximity to Azaz give the country significant leverage in the matter.
Ibrahim has made trips to Damascus, Ankara and Doha to mediate between the rebels and the Syrian government, which has agreed to the kidnappers’ demands.
The hostage-takers want the release of 127 female detainees in Syrian jails who have been charged with collaborating with foreign intelligence agencies.
Mediators were able to overcome a major hurdle last week after Syrian authorities agreed to release Tal al-Mallouhi, a Syrian blogger.
In a statement issued earlier Thursday, the families of the pilgrims asked the Syrian kidnappers to provide footage of their relatives.
They also asked the kidnappers of the Turkish pilots to release a video of the two “as a sign of good will.”
Meanwhile, a Lebanese judge listened to the testimony of the first witness, identified as Mohammad Zaytoun, in the case of the two Turkish pilots who were kidnapped in Beirut on Aug. 9 of this year. The abductors have conditioned the release of the Turks to the release of the nine Lebanese pilgrims.
The judge set Oct. 21 for listening to the second witness testimony, a judicial source told The Daily Star.
Thirteen people, mostly relatives of the hostages in Syria, have been charged with involvement in the abduction of the Turkish Airlines pilots. Three others are being held in Roumieh prison on charges of abduction.