BEIRUT: Relatives of nine Lebanese hostages being held by rebels in Syria briefly clashed Wednesday with police at the Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Center in Beirut.
The clash broke out after a delegation of relatives, returning from a meeting with the director general of General Security, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, noticed activity inside the center and entered the premises in an effort to close it down.
Staff at the center contacted the Internal Security Forces to intervene, and a brief clash ensued between police and the relatives of the hostages.
In a television interview Wednesday evening, Daniel Shoaib, the brother of one of the kidnapped, explained the relatives’ motivation.
“Although we had asked the administrators of the center to shut it down and not receive students or employees, when we passed by we saw that there were a number of students there. So we entered and asked them to leave,” he said.
The relatives of the kidnapped, who were abducted in Syria almost a year ago as they were returning from a pilgrimage in Iran, are targeting Turkish interests in Lebanon in response to what they claim are shortcomings in Ankara’s efforts to free the hostages.
The cultural center was evacuated and shut down following the incident.
Speaking to The Daily Star later in the evening, one of the students present at the center said an exchange had taken place between the relatives and the students during the incident. The student said they told the relatives that “around 100 [Lebanese] students study [Turkish] here. They have paid fees and you are doing harm by interrupting their lessons.”
The student added that she and her peers suggested the families take their protest to the Turkish Embassy instead.
Earlier in the day the relatives pressed on with their campaign in Downtown Beirut, with the protesters splitting into shifts to maintain their sit-in outside the Turkish Airlines office after the carrier decided to change its working hours.
Riot police continued to guard the entrance to the building, which the relatives had previously succeeded in blocking.
At one point, several angry relatives brandished a carton of eggs and emptied its contents at the building housing the Cultural Center, and managed to hit the windows of the center.
“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.
Protesters also briefly blocked the road linking the Grand Serail to Downtown Beirut before police reopened it for motorists.
The families canceled a meeting that was scheduled with caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour after the latter announced that he had no new information about the case.
Speaking about the relatives’ meeting with Ibrahim, Shoaib said the director general had told the families that he would travel to Syria in the next few days to present authorities there with a list of female prisoners the kidnappers want released in exchange for freeing the Lebanese pilgrims.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel received Tuesday a list containing the names of 371 female prisoners held in Syria whom the kidnappers want released.
According to Shoaib, Ibrahim said the efforts underway to secure the hostages’ release were “now more serious than ever.”
As the one year anniversary of his brother’s abduction approaches, Shoaib warned: “After May 22 [the anniversary] we will not allow any Turkish national in the streets of Lebanon.”