BEIRUT: Relatives of the nine Lebanese being held by rebels in Syria maintained Tuesday their pressure against Turkish interests in Beirut, a day after Lebanon said it was preparing to hold talks with Damascus to help secure the release of the abductees.
“We are maintaining our protests until our relatives return home safe ... If not for our actions, there would not have been any progress in the case,” Adham Zogheib, a spokesperson for the families, told The Daily Star.
A group of the relatives placed a mat on the sidewalk outside the office of Turkish Airlines in Downtown Beirut as riot police guarded the entrance of the building. The relatives, who have held daily protests over the case of their loved ones, have in the past blocked entry to the facility.
For his part, Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon Inan Ozyildiz said that he understood the anger of the relatives and urged families to be more patient and respect the rights of Turks in Lebanon because “Turkey is not the enemy.”
Tuesday’s protest comes a day after caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel received Monday a list containing the names of 371 female prisoners in Syria that the kidnappers want released in exchange for the Lebanese pilgrims.
Eleven Lebanese Shiites were captured by Syrian rebels in Aleppo, north Syria, in May 2012 while on their way back from a religious pilgrimage in Iran. Two of them were released later in the year.
Charbel said General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, who returned last week from a recent visit to Turkey to follow up on the case of the nine Lebanese, would launch negotiations with Syrian authorities over the kidnappers’ request.
Following a meeting with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Ozyildiz said that he discussed the recent visit of Ibrahim to Turkey “where there have been positive developments.”
The ambassador said that his country is upholding efforts to help resolve the case which he describes as “complicated.”
The relatives of the kidnapped Lebanese voiced their gratitude for the efforts of Ibrahim.
“We highly appreciate the efforts of Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and we trust him but we do not trust Turkey and the kidnappers who have been procrastinating in freeing the hostages,” said Zogheib.
Zogheib said that the families had planned to meet with caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour over the case but said their meeting had been postponed.
“We will meet with him later today or tomorrow. We are waiting for confirmation,” he said.
Earlier Tuesday, Mansour told the Voice of Lebanon radio station that there was “no tangible progress in the case and it is stuck in a loop.”
He added that he would be meeting later with the families for talks and to determine what else could be done in the case of the pilgrims.
Mona Termos, the wife of one of the hostages, voiced relief the recent airing of footage of the hostages, believed to be in Azaz, north Syria, but said this would not satisfy the families.
“We were kind of reassured to see them on television but they have been gone for too long. We can no longer take it. It has been almost a year now,” said Termos.
The pilgrims were kidnapped on May 22, 2012.
“I will repeat it over and over again that we are not aiming at causing chaos in the country but we want our voice to reach officials who have been turning a deaf ear [to us],” she added.