BEIRUT: A Syrian rebel group holding nine Lebanese hostages in Aleppo urged the relatives of the captives Sunday to pressure Hezbollah to accelerate the process of exchanging the kidnapped with female prisoners held by the regime.
“It has become clear to us throughout this period that Iran's party has been dragging its feet and is being slow at a time when the shelling on the northern part of Aleppo by Iran and its party has increased, which places the lives of the detained Lebanese in great danger,” a statement by the Azaz Northern Storm Brigade said.
“We say to their relatives that if you want to have Iftar with them in Lebanon then you should pressure the party to speed up the exchange,” the statement added.
The group has said it would release the nine Lebanese Shiites they hold, who were kidnapped in May of last year, in exchange for female detainees held in Syrian prisons.
The rebels have also alleged that some of the hostages are members of Hezbollah.
Sheikh Abbas Zogheib, a Shiite religious figure who is following up on the case, denied that Hezbollah or Iran were behind the slow exchange.
"Hezbollah and Iran have nothing to do with the negotiation process taking place between the regime and the kidnappers," the National News Agency quoted him as saying.
He added that the safe return of the hostages is the responsibility of the Turkish government, saying: "In the event that the kidnapped are harmed, their relatives have the right of response in the way they see appropriate.
General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim has paid several visits to Syria and Turkey to negotiate with authorities over the demands of the abductors.
Last week, one of the relatives told The Daily Star that a deal was struck to release the prisoners and Lebanese in two stages.
There have been several aborted attempts to secure the release of the Lebanese negotiated by high-level officials.
Relatives of the kidnapped have held protests outside the Turkish, French and Qatari embassies to pressure pro-opposition countries to press for their family members’ release.