BEIRUT: Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamid al-Thani promised Wednesday to help secure the release of the kidnapped bishops in Syria as Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad over the same issue following the successful release of nine Lebanese pilgrims last week. During talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Doha, the emir said he would “exert all efforts to resolve the case of the bishops.”
He affirmed to Rai his commitment to the Christian presence in Lebanon and the Middle East and also said that the Lebanese case was his top priority and that his country supported the stability of the small state.
Rai had said in remarks upon his departure to Doha Tuesday evening that he would request Qatar’s help in winning the release of Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, who were abducted in April by armed men near the Turkish border.
Following the meeting, Rai said the Qatari emir promised “he would take it upon himself to find their whereabouts and will use his power to discover their fate and have them released, God willing.”
He also said the emir confirmed to him “Qatar’s continuous support for innocent victims.”
The Lebanese patriarch also met with Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani.
Qatar News Agency said Rai expressed to Tamim his “gratitude and appreciation” for Doha’s role in securing the weekend release of the nine Lebanese Shiite men held for 17 months by Syrian rebels.
Two Turkish Airlines pilots abducted in Beirut were also released Saturday as part of the swap deal chiefly brokered by Doha.
“We hope that all people wherever they are being unjustly detained be freed,” Rai added.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s General Security, met with Assad in Damascus to discuss the case of the bishops, the National News Agency reported Wednesday.
Ibrahim has been tasked by the Lebanese government to follow up on the case of the bishops in Syria.
Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi, whose brother is one of the abducted bishops, said that officials were dealing with the case seriously but that there were no new developments.
“There is nothing new in their case but we hope and pray,” Yazigi told reporters after meeting with Greek religious figures.
“The president, the [caretaker] interior minister and Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim have called me and all the contacts confirm that there is a high level of seriousness toward the issue.”
Greek Orthodox Bishop of Mexico Antonios Shadrawi held the international and local community responsible for the continued capture of the bishops, saying “kidnappings do not frighten us.”
He also called for serious efforts to help release the prelates.
Part of the weekend swap deal was the release of over 100 female prisoners detained by Damascus. The Syrian government released at least 13 jailed women, officials and human rights activists reported Wednesday.
Lebanese officials and activists with the Violations and Documentation Center, headed by human rights lawyer Razan Zeitouneh, said that some 128 women were supposed to be freed as part of the demands of the Syrian rebels.
The VDC reported that 17 women were released from a government building Wednesday, providing the names of 13. VDC spokesman Bassam al-Ahmad said most of the women had been detained at Adra prison for over a year on terrorism charges. He added that the charges should be dropped as part of the deal.The women remained in Syria Wednesday although it was anticipated that they would be evacuated to Turkey. They were not available for comment.
Another activist with the VDC, Mansour Omari, said he believed many of the women wished to stay on in Syria and not leave their families behind, also expressing pessimism over Syrian government assurances for the women’s safety.
“According to the Azaz deal they should not be [persecuted]. But you know, in some cases before, the prisoners have been arrested again just days after their release,” he said.
A Syrian government official also confirmed the women were freed, but would not provide further details.
Ahmad said it was understood the deal was for the release of 128 women, but by late Wednesday only 17 had been freed.
Two women from the Latakia province in northern Syria were released, he said, after 15 were freed simultaneously earlier in the day. He said more were expected to be freed, without providing further details.