BEIRUT: The case of the remaining Lebanese being held by Syrian rebels is a local affair and Turkey is blameless in the matter, a senior adviser to Turkish President Abdullah Gul said in remarks published Monday.
“It is wrong to address the hostages’ case as a Turkish-Lebanese affair when it is only a Lebanese matter and should be addressed in this manner,” said Arshad Hurmuzlu, who spoke to An-Nahar newspaper.
Eleven Lebanese were held captive by Syrian rebels on May 22 while making their way back from a pilgrimage in Iran. Two of the hostages were released separately in August and September of last year.
Hurmuzlu said his country played no part in the kidnapping.
“The Lebanese [hostages] are not being held by the Turks and the matter isn’t between the two states,” he said.
Relatives of the hostages and Sheikh Abbas Zogheib, tasked by the Higher Shiite Council to follow up on the case, hold Ankara for the release of their loved ones, arguing that Turkey holds sway over the rebels.
Late December, the families also threatened to target the Turkish interests, prompting Ankara to issue a travel advisory to its citizens not avoid travel to Lebanon.
In January, the relative shut the office of Turkish Airlines in Beirut for a day.
According to Hurmuzlu, accusations of his country’s involvement in the case stem Ankara’s ties with the Free Syrian Army.
The official also voiced understanding to the reactions of the families, who “for humanitarian reasons, have raised expectations from his country.”
Touching on the mediation efforts by Turkey, Iran and Qatar that recently secured the exchange of prisoners between the Syrian government and rebels, Hurmuzlu said that his country was working to help resolve the case of the Lebanese who have been held in Syria for over seven months.
However, the official said the case of the Lebanese kidnapped in Syria was one among many.
“If there is any chance of helping in ensuring a happy ending to this case, we will not spare efforts,” he said.
“However, our capacities are limited,” he added.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and General Security chief Brig. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim are expected to visit Qatar Tuesday to seek help in the release of the pilgrims in Syria.
According to the minister, the Qatar trip might be followed by visits to other countries that might have influence in the case.