BEIRUT: The families of the nine Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria last May closed down Syrian-owned shops Friday in a suburb south of Beirut.
Nearly 40 of the hostages’ relatives closed down the Syrian-owned shops in the neighborhood of Hay al-Sellom, leaving messages on the doors bearing their signatures.
“These shops have been closed upon a decision by the relatives of the hostages in Azaz, until the pilgrims return,” read one of the messages.
Security sources told The Daily Star that the Syrians in the area responded with fear, heeding to the relative’s warnings and immediately shut their shops’ doors.
Eleven Shiite Lebanese were abducted in Aleppo, a region in northern Syria, on their way back home from a pilgrimage in Iran 10 months ago. Two were released in August and September.
One of the relatives told a local television station that they will not allow Syrians to work in Beirut’s southern suburbs, and said that they should fear for their lives.
“From now on it is forbidden for Syrians to work in our areas,” he told LBCI.
A sheikh delegated by the Higher Shiite Council to follow up on the case of the hostages said the relatives aim to pressure the Syrian captors, adding that they will also target Turkish interests in the near future to set the hostages free.
“The families aim to disrupt the work of Syrians in Lebanon and they are threatening to target the Turks later on, to convey a message that their case should be resolved,” Sheikh Abbas Zogheib told The Daily Star.
Zogheib blamed Turkey for the abduction, saying the country has an important role to play in securing the release of the pilgrims.
“The captors are only of minor influence in the case, the Turks can easily pressure them to free the hostages,” he said.
Turkey, a strong supporter of the rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad, has previously claimed that it was acting as an intermediary in the release of the hostages.
However, Turkish officials have repeatedly said that they are not to blame for the kidnappings.
The relatives of the pilgrims have staged various protests outside government buildings as well Turkish and Qatari missions in Lebanon since their loved ones were kidnapped.
Last month, President Michel Sleiman held talks with Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, during a visit to Doha, over the case of the pilgrims and asked for help to secure their release.
He also met with the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the sidelines of an Arab League summit in Doha, and urged that Ankara “exert every effort within its means” to secure the release of the hostages.
Earlier this month, sources told The Daily Star negotiations for the hostages’ release were ongoing after they had been transferred to a rebel Islamist faction in Syria.