BEIRUT: The release of kidnapped Lebanese in Syria is in the hands of Turkey and Qatar, caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Thursday, a day after the kidnappers agreed to exchange the abductees for female detainees held by the Syrian regime.
“The Lebanese security agencies have exerted tremendous efforts in bringing back the Turkish kidnapped [in Beirut] but that was not met with similar efforts to release those in Azaz,” Charbel told reporters following a meeting with security chiefs at the ministry's headquarters.
“It turned out that resolving the case was not entirely in the hands of the Turkish authorities but [now we] know that the final solution to this case will be via[Turkey’s] efforts with the Qataris,” he added.
Charbel said negotiations in this case have taken a lot of time but that the atmosphere in recent weeks has been positive.
Eleven Lebanese Shiites were captured by Syrian rebels in Aleppo, north Syria, on May 22 while on their way back from a religious pilgrimage in Iran. Two of the pilgrims have since been released.
Charbel who has visited Turkey and Qatar to ask for their help in securing the release of the remaining Lebanese also said that Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim would head to Syria to negotiate the kidnapper’s demands.
“Let us wait for the list of female detainees in Syrian prisons to be out so that the head of General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim could go [to Syria] and negotiate the names,” he said.
Ibrahim who was tasked to follow up on the case returned from Turkey Tuesday in a visit described by Charbel as “most positive.”
A statement published late Wednesday on the Facebook page of the Azaz Northern Storm Brigade, a group that claims responsibility for the abduction, said that the hostages are members of Hezbollah and that the resistance group has obstructed previous efforts to free them.
“Investigations with the hostages proved that they are Hezbollah members and they are not pilgrims as they claim to be because there are no religious sites in Azaz,” said the statement.
The relatives of the hostages have repeatedly denied having any affiliation with Hezbollah.
According to the statement, the kidnappers agreed to exchange the hostages with female detainees held in prison by the Syrian regime.
“It is now time to declare our demand which is freeing the innocent women in the prisons of the Syrian regime that is backed by Hezbollah,” said the statement.
“A mediation committee of Qatar, Turkey, and the Muslim Scholars Committee was formed and we handed them the list of the women to be freed,” it added.
Meanwhile, the relatives of the hostages resumed their protests and held a sit-in outside the offices of the Turkish Airlines office in the Azarieh Building, Downtown Beirut.
The families argue that Turkey is reluctant in helping to release the hostages and they have been holding similar protests for over two weeks now in a bid to secure the release of their loved ones.
Turkey has repeatedly said it is trying to help resolve the case of the hostages and says it is not to be blames for the kidnapping.