BEIRUT: Relatives of nine Lebanese kidnapped in Syria by a rebel group protested Thursday outside the Qatari Embassy, asking Doha to help secure the release of their loved ones.
Tens of women and children gathered outside the mission’s headquarters in Ain el-Tineh at 7 a.m., blocking the entrance and preventing employees from entering the premises.
They said they will hold a sit-in until the end of the working day.
A minor dispute erupted between security personnel who blocked the road leading to the embassy and protesters.
The protest is part of a series of steps that the relatives vowed to take at the start of 2013 in a bid to add further pressure on anti-Assad countries to secure the release of the Shiite pilgrims.
In a bid to contain the situation, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel met with a delegation of the families Thursday afternoon and informed them that he launched contacts with Qatari officials with regards to their case.
"[Charbel] began his field work to make contacts with the state of Qatar to help resolve this humanitarian case and there will be ongoing coordination between him and the committee of the families to follow up on developments,” Adham Zogheib, son of one of the kidnapped, told reporters after the meeting.
Eleven Lebanese were kidnapped in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo shortly after crossing from Turkey on May 22, 2012. They were on their way back to Lebanon from Iran, where they had been on a pilgrimage. Two of the kidnapped – Hussein Ali Omar and Awad Ibrahim – have so far been released.
Speaking to reporters outside the embassy, Hayat Awali said Thursday’s protest was only the beginning.
“We are here to say that we will no longer remain silent and today’s step is just the start of more protests,” she said.
The families vowed to continue their protests against countries in support of the Syrian uprising including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, saying: "They will experience hardship as long as we are.”
The protests have mainly focused on the Turkish Embassy as the pilgrims were kidnapped near Ankara's border.
On Jan. 2, the relatives protested outside the Turkish Airlines office in Downtown Beirut and placed a wax seal on the company’s door to prevent employees from reaching their offices.
A December protest outside the Turkish Embassy prompted Ankara to issue an advisory against travel to Lebanon.
Turkey has repeatedly said it is exerting efforts to help release the Lebanese, asking the families to be patient.
Labor Minister Salim Jreissati said Thursday that the governemnt understands the steps takes by the relatives but they should be within limits.
"We understand such measures in front of the Qatari Embassy but it should be within limits," Jreissati told Voice of Lebanon radio station.
"It is important that the relatives don't harm the interest of Turkey, Qatar or Saudi Arabia in Lebanon because Lebanon respects the charters it signed [with these countries]," he added.
The minister also said that the government is still in contact with Turkish authorities with regards to the abductees.