BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said Sunday he had held “positive” talks with Turkish officials on the issue of nine Lebanese hostages held in Syria. Mansour was speaking to reporters at Beirut Airport upon his return from Istanbul after attending an Arab-Turkish cooperation forum.
Asked if he had discussed the issue of the nine Lebanese pilgrims who are being held by Syrian rebels with Turkish officials, Mansour said: “We are following up this issue without going into details through media outlets and without entering into details of the contacts being held in this respect. Yes, I have discussed this issue with Turkish officials.”
Asked if the talks were positive, he said: “God willing, the atmosphere is positive.” Mansour did not elaborate.
Eleven Shiite pilgrims, along with their relatives, were abducted near Aleppo’s northern Syrian border town of Azaz on May 22 while returning from a pilgrimage in Iran. Two of them were later released.
The abduction sparked a wave of retaliatory kidnappings of Turks and Syrians by armed groups in Lebanon.
But the Lebanese Army launched a security dragnet in Beirut’s southern suburbs in September that led to the release of kidnapped Syrians and Turks and the arrest of their captors.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told The Daily Star recently that the Lebanese government had received “positive signals” from Turkish authorities that some of the pilgrims might be released soon. Charbel and Mansour are part of a ministerial committee tasked with resolving the issue of the hostages.
The committee, which is headed by Deputy Premier Samir Moqbel and also includes the ministers of labor and justice, has been in contact with the Turkish authorities on the issue. It has kept silent on the results of its contacts.
Hopes for a resolution for the issue of the Lebanese pilgrims rose after their captors from the rebel Free Syrian Army released two hostages: Hussein Ali Omar in August and Awad Ibrahim in September.
After Ibrahim was set free, one of the pilgrims’ captors, identified as Abu Ibrahim, said that the release of the remaining hostages depended on an apology from Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah to the Syrian people for his support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Nasrallah has refused to issue an apology.
In addition to the nine remaining pilgrims held by the FSA, Hassan Meqdad and another Lebanese are also being held by Syrian rebels.
Sheikh Abbas Zgheib, who was tasked by the Higher Shiite Council to follow up the case of Lebanese hostages in Syria, said in a TV interview last week that the talks on the issue were taking place in a “positive” manner.
Zgheib said the news was relayed to him by General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, who was tasked with contacting Turkish authorities on the matter.