Lebanon News

Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria say they are in good health

A snapshot taken from LBC television channel shows two of the Lebanese hostages after Al-Jazeera TV aired photos of some of them. (The Daily Star)

BEIRUT: Members of the group of Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria in May said Sunday they were in good health and guests until their release is secured.

“We haven’t been subjected to any torture,” Ali Abbas, one of the 11 men, told Almayadeen TV station, adding that he was in good health.

“Me and two others were sick and the kidnappers provided us with medicine,” he told the TV station, which was monitored carefully by relatives in Lebanon.

Ali Tormos, Abbas Hammoud, Hasan Hammoud, Hussein Omar, Jamil Saleh and Hasan Arzouni - five other members of the group kidnapped on May 22 – also spoke of their experiences in brief audio clips.

They said they were good health and only guests, and not hostages.

The 11 men were kidnapped near the northern Syrian province of Aleppo on May 22 while returning from a Shiite religious pilgrimage in Iran.

One of their kidnappers, who identified himself as Abu Ibrahim, told the recently launched station that the 11 men were his guests.

“We have guests. We just have a message to the Lebanese about Hezbollah’s position toward the Syrian revolution and the statements by Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah supporting the Syrian regime,” he said, when asked what his message to the Lebanese government was.

In an interview with The New Yorker published Saturday, Abu Ibrahim said: “Through the people we are holding we are sending a message to the Shiite people to support the Syrian people, not the regime.”

When asked by Almayadeen whether he and the hostages were located on Syrian of Turkish territory, Abu Ibrahim said he was in the former.

“We and the [pilgrims] are in an area fully liberated from Syrian regime control,” he said.

A reporter for The New Yorker who met three of three of the hostages - Ali Zagheeb, 44, from the Bekaa; Awad Ibrahim, 46, from Baalbek and Abbas, 29, from south Lebanon – said the brief encounter with the hostages tool place in Azaz, some 3.5 kilometers from the Turkish border.

Earlier this month, there were hopes that two of the hostages would be released soon.

In a statement carried by Al-Jazeera TV on July 18, the kidnappers said their decision to release two hostages came in response to calls by the committee of Muslim scholars in Lebanon.

“We will release two of our guests to their families under the auspices of the committee ... and the state of Qatar,” said the statement, which was part of the third video of the hostages that the Doha-based channel has run. The video gave no date for the release.

The video aired on the same day that President Michel Sleiman held talks with officials in Ankara about the kidnapping. Several reports said Sleiman would seek to win the hostages’ release before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

When asked of the chances that some of the pilgrims would be released within the holy month of Ramadan, Abu Ibrahim told Almayadeen there was a possibility that this could take place.

Abu Ibrahim described himself as a civilian and part of the revolution but denied being a member of the Free Syrian Army.

When asked how he was able to support the 11 men in his custody, Abu Ibrahim said he received large financial support from Syrian businessmen abroad.

“Thank God, we are a big group. My group has large financial funding ... Our work in the revolution isn’t just to resist the Syrian regime but we act as police and work at the civilian, economic and health levels. Syrian businessmen outside and Europe ... have put large quantities of money at their disposal,” he said.

In his interview with The New Yorker, Abu Ibrahim said he had received some 1.3 million euros ($1.6 million) in financial assistance from the government of Qatar.

He said the money had helped mostly with food and medicine.





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