BEIRUT: Families of the Lebanese Shiite pilgrims kidnapped in Syria have split into two groups, differing over who is to blame for the ongoing hostage situation.
Hayat Awali, the spokesperson for the families of hostages Abbas Shoaib and Ali Termos, blames former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his aide, Zahle MP Oqab Saqr, for the delay in the pilgrims’ release.
Awali and the two families she represents believe government officials are doing what they can to free the hostages, but say their captors are putting obstacles in the way of a deal to free them.
“We still blame Oqab Saqr and Saad Hariri for standing behind the captors of the Lebanese pilgrims in Syria,” Awali said.
But relatives of Awad Ibrahim, one of the pilgrims who was released in September, believe Saqr and Hariri are actually helping in mediation efforts to bring the hostages back home. They are being held in Aleppo’s Azaz district.
The divide occurred after most of the families of the remaining hostages visited the grave of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Downtown Beirut and a gathering of March 14 youth groups at Riad al-Solh last month, and the relatives of Shoaib and Termos did not attend.
Family members of the group that supports Saqr’s mediation efforts briefly blocked the street in front of the Interior Ministry on Friday to put pressure on the government.
“We are willing to destroy Lebanon for the sake of getting our sons back,” one protester shouted outside the Interior Ministry.
“No one has asked about us – neither [Speaker Nabih] Berri nor Hezbollah,” another demonstrator complained.
Shortly after the demonstration, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel met with the families. “There are some difficulties impeding the release of the kidnapped. I told this to the families but we are trying to resolve the case,” he said.
During the rally, the protesters called on Saqr to re-establish talks with the families of the hostages in order to facilitate the men’s release.
Awali, who represents the families that stayed away from the ministry, said there was no need to pressure the government since Charbel and General Security head Brig. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim are doing all they can to end the six-month saga.
“Ibrahim and Charbel are working hard to bring the pilgrims home, so why have a demonstration in front of the Interior Ministry?” Awali asked.
Adham Zogheib, the son of hostage Ali Zogheib, was part of the ministry protest, and blamed various parties for trying to politicize the issue.
“There are parties who want to exploit the kidnapped pilgrims’ case. We don’t want to be part of the political disputes in Lebanon, all we want is our relatives to come back as soon as possible,” Zogheib told The Daily Star.
Zogheib added that this week’s media commotion over Saqr has hindered the release of one of the pilgrims. “One of the pilgrims was about to be released last Thursday, and surprisingly they published audio recordings of Saqr the same day.”
A local television station published audio recordings this week implicating Saqr in providing weapons to Syria’s armed opposition. Saqr later responded that his remarks were taken out of context.