BEIRUT: Lebanese pilgrims held by Syrian rebels strongly lashed out Tuesday at the Lebanese government, which they said had neglected their case.
The pilgrims also urged the Future Movement and the Zahle MP Oqab Saqr to work on securing their release. “My message to the president, to the speaker, prime minister and the lowest ranking MP is that we regret that we were the first people to elect them because politicians here are like those in Syria, they forget people once they reach power,” one of the kidnapped, Ali Abbas, told LBCI TV.
Some relatives of the pilgrims, along with the LBCI crew, headed Tuesday to Turkey to see what progress has been made in the case. LBCI’s website said that only reporters were able to meet the captives.
The move comes after Abu Ibrahim, the head of the captors, called on reporters Monday to meet the pilgrims in Izaaz in Aleppo to relay the captors’ demands. A delegation from Al-Jadeed TV also flew to Turkey to try to meet the kidnapped.
Sitting in a salon, the captives who appeared in good health said they are being treated well by their abductors. They also slammed the Lebanese state, which they said has neglected their case.
“I call on our relatives to ... continue the road blocks, we are fed up [after] three months [in custody],” said Abbas Hammoud, another captive.
Ali Abbas said that media reports depicting the rebel Free Syrian Army as a group of terrorists committing massacres were “deceiving.”
“In Syria, there are neither terrorist nor mercenary groups,” he said. “On the contrary, there are people who took to streets to demand freedom.
“We demand that before the [Lebanese government] negotiates our release, let them recognize the FSA,” he said.
For his part, Abu Ibrahim called on Lebanon to express its support for the Syrian revolution and urged the Lebanese people “to speak the truth.”
Abbas Shoueib said his captors are treating him well.
“We consider Abu Ibrahim like a father; he used to take us to other places when shells target us,” he said.
Shoueib also urged Zahle MP Oqab Saqr, from the Future Movement, to work on securing their release.
Earlier in Beirut, the families of 11 hostages staged a demonstration near the Turkish Embassy, aiming to pressure Ankara to do more to secure the release of their loved ones.
A representative of the families warned that Turkish nationals in Lebanon could face the same fate as the Lebanese hostages if the country does not work to resolve the case.
About 60 family members and supporters were flanked Sheikh Abbas Zogheib, who is tasked by the Higher Shiite Council to follow up on the pilgrims’ case. He spoke to reporters near the Turkish Embassy in Rabieh where police had tightened security.
“I want to say to the Turkish state that the Lebanese people are also hospitable people,” Zogheib said. “We came to them [to the Turkish Embassy] today in a peaceful act and if the issue is not resolved, then they [the Turks] will be guests.”
The Syrian rebels who took the Lebanese men have repeatedly insisted that the pilgrims are their “guests,” as opposed to hostages.
“The message that the families of the kidnapped want to convey to the Turkish Embassy is that Turkey is the state that can pressure the so-called Syrian opposition to resolve this humanitarian case,” Zogheib said.
“The Turks said ‘the issue is not in our hands,’ but the source of the phone call [between the kidnapped and their relatives Monday] is Turkey and what the kidnapped said yesterday [Monday] confirms that they are under Turkish control,” he added. “Turkey is responsible, they can’t deny this.”
The Shiite hostages were kidnapped after crossing into Syria from Turkey on May 22 when returning from a pilgrimage to Iran. Women and elderly men were allowed to leave.
Abu Ibrahim has said they don’t want a ransom, but has demanded that the pilgrims’ release be negotiated with Saqr or Brig. Wissam Hasan, the head of the Internal Security Forces Information Branch.
Asked what the protesters are planning, Zogheib said that the next step would be a protest near the Qatari Embassy, adding that Qatar can play an effective role in securing the release of the pilgrims.
“We cannot forget Qatar! How nice is Qatar!” he said, tongue in cheek. Turkey and Qatar have thrown their support behind the Syrian opposition.
Zogheib called on Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour to summon Turkey’s Ambassador to Lebanon Inan Ozyildiz and hand him a strongly worded letter over its handling of the case.
Meanwhile, the Airport Road was reopened at dawn Monday after being blocked by families of the kidnapped in a bid to pressure the Lebanese government to act. Speaking to The Daily Star, Zogheib said that the option of reblocking the Airport Road or even closing the airport should be taken seriously.
“If they [the state] continue not to deal with the issue seriously, then a crisis will happen,” he said.