BEIRUT: Qatar has promised to work on releasing the remaining nine Lebanese hostages held by Syrian rebels, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Thursday upon his return from the Gulf nation.
“Qatar showed interest in [resolving the case of] the Lebanese kidnapped in Syria after we explained to them the details of this humanitarian case and contacts pursued to resolve it,” Charbel said in a statement.
He and Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the head of the General Security, wrapped up a two-day-visit to Qatar, where they held talks with officials, seeking their meditation to secure the pilgrims’ release. The two Lebanese officials held talks with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem al-Thani and other senior officials.
Charbel said the meetings were positive: “As a result of the meeting, a Qatari security official was appointed to follow up on the matter ... with Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim who will meet him again early next week in Doha.”
The statement said Ibrahim would visit next week after preparing a complete file containing the outcome of the talks and efforts made by a ministerial committee formed by the Lebanese government to follow up on the matter.
Upon his return, Charbel held a meeting with families of the hostages and informed them about the outcome of his talks.
“The interior minister told us that the Qataris are serious,” Adham Zogheib, whose father is one of the hostages, told The Daily Star. “We are optimistic,” he added.
Zogheib said that families of the pilgrims would suspend their protests at the present time in light of efforts state officials were making to bring their loved ones back home.
“Our protests are aimed at conveying our concerns to officials and so that they [influential countries] consider our demands. When this happens, then for sure we will stop,” said Zogheib.
“We are not interested in taking to the streets.”
Zogheib explained that news about the Free Syrian Army resuming mediation efforts to release the pilgrims was also among the reasons for the families’ decision to suspend action.
The FSA said Wednesday it would restart efforts to help in freeing the pilgrims as a result of a request by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
The nine pilgrims were snatched by Syrian rebels last May in the province of Aleppo. They were on their way back to Lebanon after performing a religious pilgrimage in Iran.
The families of the kidnapped have staged a series of protests near Qatari and Turkish establishments in Lebanon, arguing that the two countries could use their influence with Syrian rebels to gain the release of the hostages.
President Michel Sleiman told a Cabinet session that the issue of the hostages still concerned Lebanon.
Charbel and Ibrahim also discussed issues of mutual interest during separate meetings with Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hamad al-Attiyah, the chairman of the Administrative Control and Transparency Authority and Ali bin Fetais al-Marri, Qatar’s public prosecutor. Sleiman said that he telephoned Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani twice over the matter. “Preparations [for a Qatari mediation] are good, but what matters is results,” Sleiman said during the meeting.
For his part, Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel-Karim Ali, voiced hope Thursday that the Syrian Army would be able to liberate the Lebanese captives.
“The Syrian army is freeing a number of kidnapped [people in Syria] every day and we hope that the Lebanese kidnapped in Azaz will be among these cases,” Ali told reporters after holding talks with Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour.
Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, said that his country was exerting all its efforts to release the Lebanese hostages as well.
“The Islamic Republic does not spare any effort to serve humanitarian causes, including this one ... Thus, we stress that we are trying our best [to secure their release] and we hope that the Lebanese will have their relatives back as soon as possible.”