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Released Lebanese pilgrim says thrilled to be home

Released hostage Awad Ibrahim gestures upon his arrival at Beirut airport, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Awad Ibrahim, the recently released Lebanese hostage who was held in Syria for over four months, still can’t believe he is in the safety of his home with his family in Beirut.

“My feelings are indescribable, I haven’t slept all night ... and I am really thrilled to be with my family again. My kids, my wife and my mother have been really anxious in my absence. I just hope the remaining hostages will be freed,” Ibrahim told The Daily Star Thursday.

In his neighborhood of Hay al-Sellom in Beirut’s southern suburb, jubilant crowds welcomed Ibrahim’s return which came after months of mediation and pressure from both Lebanese and Turkish officials.

The 47-year-old Ibrahim arrived in Lebanon from Turkey Wednesday night.

Syrian rebels snatched Ibrahim, 47, and 10 other Lebanese outside Aleppo while returning from a pilgrimage in Iran on May 22. Hussein Ali Omar, the first hostage to be freed, was released in late August.

His captors demanded that Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah apologizes to the Syrian people for his party’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Speaking about his daily routine while in captivity, Ibrahim said his captors had treated him decently and secured him treatment due to his health problems.

“The kidnappers didn’t mistreat us or anything, but it is really hard for one to be deprived of his freedom,” said Awad, father of three – two girls and a boy.

“On the contrary, they treated us like guests. We ate and slept well, and got medical care when needed. They even got me a private nurse to look after me because I suffered from some health problems,” he added.

Ibrahim said there was little to do while in captivity but “the time seemed to pass slowly.”

“We use to spend most of it smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee and tea,” he said, adding that “we were mostly isolated from everything happening around us.”

Ibrahim said one of the restrictions that bugged him the most was the ban on watching television.

“The kidnapper didn’t allow us to watch TV,” he said.

“They did break the rule on a couple of occasions, mainly during the release of the first hostage Hussein Omar,” he added.

Talking about his kidnappers, Ibrahim said they were friendly but discrete about security issues and negotiations.

Asked about media reports quoting one of the kidnappers as saying that the release of the remaining nine hostages had been halted because of their alleged ties to Hezbollah, Awad said: “They didn’t mention anything of the sort in front of us,” adding that the hostages were never questioned about ties to Hezbollah.”

Hezbollah has denied any links with the 11 Lebanese.

Ibrahim’s journey to Beirut started Tuesday morning, when his captors drove him from the town of Azaz, leaving him at the nearby Turkish border crossing Kilis. From there, Turkish intelligence personnel transferred him to Gaziantep where he traveled to Turkey’s capital Ankara.

After spending 24 hours in Ankara, Ibrahim traveled to Istanbul and then to Beirut accompanied by two Lebanese Interior Ministry officials.

Upon arrival at the Rafik Hariri International Airport Wednesday night, Awad thanked everyone who played a role in facilitating his release including former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the Committee of Muslim Scholars who has been working on the case.

Hariri later telephoned Ibrahim at home to congratulate him on his return to Beirut and also expressed hope all the pilgrims would be brought home soon.

 

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