BEIRUT: Relatives of Lebanese fighters killed in Syria earlier this month warned Friday they would take escalatory steps if the government fails to secure the repatriation of their loved ones by Monday.
"We are giving the government until Monday morning; if the bodies are not handed over, we will block roads in Mallouleh, Baddawi, Al-Qibbeh and Nour Square in protest,” said Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim, who represents the relatives of the fighters killed in Syria.
Ibrahim, who spoke during a news conference in Nour Square in the northern city of Tripoli, added that he would coordinate with residents in the northern region of Akkar to carry out the potential escalatory steps.
Two weeks ago, news surfaced that around 21 Lebanese men were killed in an ambush by regime forces in the Syrian town of Tal Kalakh, which lies near the border with Lebanon. The Salafist fighters, who hailed mostly from Tripoli, were between the ages of 16 and 24.
Days later, Syrian state television broadcast images of more than five dead bodies with Lebanese identification documents, saying that the men snuck into the country from Lebanon’s Wadi Khaled and that others in the group had been wounded.
Last week, Syria handed over the bodies of three of the fighters to their relatives. Damascus has said that it will transfer the remaining bodies in stages but without specifying dates.
The incident fueled clashes in Tripoli between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad. The fighting, which lasted for almost a week, claimed the lives of at least 17 people and wounded over 100.
During his chat with reporters, the sheikh criticized Lebanon’s government for neglecting the case of relatives seeking the return of their loved ones and demanded that those who were still alive to be returned from Syria.
“We have said that we wanted those who are alive before the dead because a security official has told us that [Israelis] ... treat their prisoners better than the criminal Syrian regime,” he said.
“Repatriating the bodies will not cost [Prime Minister Najib] Mikati anything but a phone call to his criminal ally Bashar Assad,” Ibrahim added.
Mikati has appealed to the International Committee of the Red Cross to help retrieve the bodies of the slain Lebanese and obtain information about the fate of the others.
Ibrahim also said that General Security, the security apparatus tasked by the government to coordinate with the Syrian side with regard on the matter of repatriating the bodies, had showed the relatives photos of the dead and identified seven of them.
According to a statement from Mikati’s office, the prime minister met the head of General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim at the Grand Serail.
The latter informed him of ongoing contacts with the Syrian side to repatriate the bodies, the statement said.
Ibrahim told Mikati that repatriation would be finalized when authorities completed the identification process of the men, it added.