BEIRUT: Two Turkish pilots kidnapped in Beirut in August are expected to be released within hours, a security source told The Daily Star, as the relatives of nine recently released Lebanese hostages awaited eagerly the return of their loved ones.
Turkish Airlines pilot Murat Akpinar and his co-pilot Murat Agca were kidnapped on Aug. 9 in Beirut as they were making their way to their Beirut hotel. Their abduction was linked to the case of the nine Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped last year in northern Syria.
“The Turkish pilots are expected to be released within a few hours,” the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, adding that mediators have arrived in Lebanon to oversee the release of the Turks.
Negotiations to ensure the release of the pilots included the payment of a ransom, the source said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu voiced optimism late Friday that Akpinar and Agca would be released soon, reported the National News Agency.
“There are positive developments concerning the two Turkish pilots and a big part of the case has been resolved,” he was quoted as saying.
The case of the Turkish pilots was greatly improved late Friday after Lebanese officials announced positive developments regarding to the nine Lebanese who were kidnapped in Syria.
Both caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, Lebanon’s General Security chief, said the pilgrims were released by Syrian rebels and a security source told The Daily Star that the Lebanese had arrived in Turkey and were in “Turkish hands.”
The development came a day after the Gulf state of Qatar vowed to intervene to resolve the case of the Lebanese pilgrims.
On Friday, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah told Al-Jazeera that his country’s mediation had resulted in the release of Lebanese hostages.
Meanwhile, the relatives of the nine Lebanese hostages, still elated over the news that they would soon reunite with their loved ones, gathered Saturday in force in Bir al-Abed, the southern suburbs of Beirut.
“We are very happy and eager about the release of our loved ones and preparing to receive them,” Saeed Saleh, the son of one of the hostages, told The Daily Star by telephone.
“Once the detainees in Syrian prisons are set free, the Lebanese hostages will be sent back to Lebanon,” Saleh said, referring to the rebels’ demand for the release of a number of Syrian female detainees.
Saleh said Ibrahim had informed the relatives that their loved ones were now in Turkey.
Lebanese officials were still optimistic Saturday that the Lebanese would soon be back in the country.
Charbel told The Daily Star that the 48 deadline, announced by Ibrahim Friday night, was needed in order to complete the swap between the Lebanese pilgrims and the detainees in Syria.
The minister also voiced confidence that the swap would go ahead as planned and that no obstacles were impeding the release process.
“Once freed, the Syrian detainees will be handed to the opposition,” Charbel said.
The kidnappers of the Lebanese pilgrims had asked earlier in the year for the release of 127 female detainees including prominent opposition activist Tall al-Mlouh, a demand that Damascus agreed to.
Ibrahim, tasked with following up on the case of the Lebanese hostages in Syria, has made several trips between Damascus and Ankara in recent days in order to negotiate with the mediators.
President Michel Sleiman followed up on the case with Charbel Saturday and called for speeding up the process of their return to Lebanon.