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Families of kidnapped pilgrims visit Hariri grave

Families of kidnapped pilgrims pay tribute to the late Hariri. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Families of the Lebanese pilgrims being held in Syria visited the grave of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut’s Martyrs Square Tuesday evening, in a move that will likely be followed by a protest in front of the Syrian and Iranian embassies, according to sources from the families.

Relatives of some of the men also visited the March 14 sit-in at Riad al-Solh Square and held a joint gathering to denounce Syrian attempts to export its crisis into Lebanon.

After reading aloud prayers at the graves of Hariri and senior security chief Brig. Gen. Wissam Hasan, a delegation from the families walked to Riad al-Solh Square where March 14 youth organizations have been protesting against the government for weeks.

“Our participation in a gathering with the March 14 youth organizations in Riad al-Solh is an attempt to create an atmosphere of solidarity and agreement,” said Adham Zogheib, whose father, Ali Zogheib, is still being held by a Syrian opposition group in northern Syria.

Two of the 11 kidnapped pilgrims have been freed, and talks continue between Ankara, Beirut and the Syrian rebels to free the remaining nine.

Zogheib added that Future Movement MP Okab Sakr is currently in Turkey and is heading the negotiations to ensure the safe return of the remaining pilgrims.

The pilgrims were kidnapped in the Aleppo district in May on their way home from a pilgrimage in Iran. Their captors have said they would hold them as “guests” until Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah apologizes for his support of the Syrian regime.

Hayat Awali, a spokesperson for the families of the kidnapped, told The Daily Star that only three families participated in the gathering. “Other families objected to this move because March 14 wants to politically manipulate this event instead of helping out the pilgrims’ families,” Awali said.

Awali said pressure by the March 14 youth movements on premier Najib Mikati won’t help free the pilgrims.

“We were supposed to have a gathering only at Hariri’s grave, but March 14 saw an opportunity in this to launch new attacks on Mikati,” Awali added.

Activists from Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile also took part in Tuesday’s gathering to reiterate calls to free at least 600 Lebanese political prisoners in Syria prisons.

“We went to Downtown to announce that all the kidnapped pilgrims are Lebanese and not only Shiites,” said Randa Arzouni, wife of the kidnapped Hasan Arzouni. “Visiting Hariri’s grave was important, I wish he was alive. Had Hariri been alive, the pilgrims would have returned home in less than a day.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 14, 2012, on page 4.

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