BEIRUT: Qatar will appoint a security official to follow up on efforts to release the remaining nine Lebanese pilgrims that are still held by Syrian rebels, sources told The Daily Star Tuesday.
The sources said that the move came after consultations between Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and Qatari officials Tuesday.
The talks were held during an official two-day visit the Lebanese officials are conducting in Qatar to discuss possible assistance in securing the release of the hostages and included meetings with various government representatives, including Interior Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani. The men agreed that the security official, who has yet to be appointed, would coordinate efforts between Lebanon and Qatar and follow up on the matter.
The sources said that the meetings were very positive and addressed the means by which Qatar could assist in attaining the release of the pilgrims.
Last May, 11 men were kidnapped by Syrian rebels in the Aleppo district of Azaz on their way back from a religious pilgrimage in Iran. One of the hostages was released in August and another in September.
Relatives of the remaining hostages claim Qatar and Turkey could help in the release of their family members due to their influence among the ranks of the Syrian opposition.
Ersat Hurmuzlu, a senior adviser to Turkish President Abdullah Gul, said earlier this week that Turkey could do little on the issue of the Lebanese hostages. He said it was a mistake to consider it a Lebanese-Turkish affair, as the Lebanese pilgrims were not held by the Turks, adding that Turkey’s ability to guarantee their release was limited.
Charbel and Ibrahim will hold further meetings with Qatari politicians and security officials Wednesday before returning to Lebanon.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 16, 2013, on page 3.