BEIRUT: Sheikh Salem Rafei, deputy head of the Committee of Muslim Scholars, said Tuesday that one of the 10 remaining Lebanese hostages held by Syrian rebels would be released this afternoon.
Rafei told The Daily Star that during a phone call with Abu Ibrahim – one of the kidnappers – the latter confirmed that one of the hostages would be freed at about “2 p.m. or 3 p.m.”
Citing the health problems of one of the hostages, Rafei said “the captive to be released will likely be Awad Ibrahim.”
“When I was in Turkey, the kidnappers asked me which of the captives deserved to be released first. I mentioned Ibrahim because in prior meetings with the kidnapped families, they said he was the frailest among the hostages,” he said.
Eleven Lebanese men were kidnapped in the Aleppo district of Azaz on May 22, shortly after crossing into Syria from Turkey. They were on their way back to Lebanon following a pilgrimage to Shiite holy sites in Iran.
One of the hostages, Hussein Omar, was released last month by the rebels, who said that their move came in response to a request by the Committee of Muslim Scholars.
Rafei said the work of the committee would continue until all the remaining hostages were set free.
“Our efforts don’t end here, we will keep in contact with the kidnappers and the Turkish state until the rest of the hostages will be released as well, said Rafei, a key negotiator in the case.
Rafei also said that he was maintaining contact with Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Interior Minister Marwan Charbel to brief them on the outcome of negotiations.
Earlier today, Charbel told the LBCI TV channel that coordination was ongoing with the Turkish authorities to enhance efforts aimed at freeing the hostages.
The minister said that he would head to Turkey, accompanied by the General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, to receive the hostage.
“We are coordinating with the Turkish authorities and will move according to available information,” Charbel said.
Last month, Rafei visited Turkey and attended a meeting with Syrian religious figures in the Turkish city of Gaziantep on the border with Syria. However, upon his return from Turkey, Rafei said complications had slowed down the release of the hostages.
“The matter had become subject to political bidding. Everyone wanted to claim success of releasing the hostages and that is what led to the failure of negotiations earlier,” he said.
Asked about what had changed since then to prompt the kidnappers to make a decision to release one of the hostages, Rafei said: “The captors have always been telling us they still intend to free one of the hostages as they have promised the Muslim scholars’ committee. It was just a matter of time.”