BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Wednesday the government will take “brave steps” to secure the release of 11 Lebanese hostages held by Syrian rebels before Eid al-Fitr on Aug. 19.
“The Lebanese state, on behalf of the president and prime minister, is exerting every effort in the case of the Lebanese hostages in Syria.
“We are considering taking brave steps to ensure their return to their families and their homeland before Eid al-Fitr,” acting Information Minister Wael Abu Faour quoted Mikati as saying during a Cabinet session he chaired at the Grand Serail.
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Speaking to reporters following the session, Abu Faour said that everyone in Lebanon is fully aware of how important resolving the case is.
“I believe the Lebanese are convinced this is not just an issue for the hostages or their families, but a crisis for all Lebanon that must come to an end,” Abu Faour said. “As the prime minister said, the state is determined to do all that can be done ... to bring the hostages back to their families.”
Abu Faour told The Daily Star that the government is contacting influential officials in Syria in an attempt to secure the hostages’ release before Eid al-Fitr, but did not elaborate further.
But Sheikh Abbas Zogheib, who is tasked by the Higher Shiite Council with following up the matter, said these promises are “just words that cannot provide comfort until something concrete is done.”
“It is good to hear but comes late,” he told The Daily Star. “Lebanon should officially hold Turkey responsible for the kidnapping ... why are Lebanese officials ashamed of doing so?” he asked.
Zogheib said it is “the natural right” of the hostages’ families to take action against the embassies of countries who support the Syrian opposition, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Relatives of the kidnapped demonstrated near the Turkish Embassy Tuesday while Zogheib said that Turkish nationals in Lebanon could face a similar fate should Turkey not work to ensure the hostages’ release.
“Action against the other embassies might take the form of protests or stronger measures,” said Zogheib, who added that other options like closing the airport road again or even the airport itself are possible. “We hope they [authorities] will not force us to a point of no return.”
Ersat Hurmuzlu, a senior adviser to Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul, said Wednesday that his country rejects the “language of threats.”
“The Lebanese government and the kidnappers are the main parties concerned with the kidnapping issue,” he told MTV.
The 11 pilgrims were kidnapped by Syrian rebels on May 22 in Izaaz in the northern district of Aleppo shortly after crossing from Turkey into Syria. They were on their way back to Lebanon from Iran, where they had been on pilgrimage.
Meanwhile, relatives of those kidnapped were able to meet with the hostages Wednesday after reaching Izaaz from Turkey.
LBCI aired footage showing Adham Zogheib meeting with his kidnapped father and Hasan Ibrhaim meeting his captured brother Awad, along with the rest of the hostages.
The captives reiterated their criticism of the Lebanese state, which they accuse of neglecting their cause. They said they were being well treated by the rebels, and urged their relatives at home to escalate protests to pressure the government to secure their release.
Ali Omar, the son of kidnapped Hussein Omar, was able to meet his father and the rest of the kidnapped pilgrims after crossing to Izaaz with reporters from Al-Jadeed TV. He hugged his father closely as the rest of the captives spoke to their relatives in Lebanon by phone.
Abu Ibrahim, the head of the kidnappers, told Al-Jadeed reporters that they don’t want money in return for the hostages’ freedom, promising to release them soon.
“We are sending messages from Syria to Lebanon so that they see what is happening to us,” he added. “We are not only being hit by rockets and tanks, but we are running out of bread, diesel and gasoline,” he said.
Destruction was visible in the area in Al-Jadeed’s footage as they drove from the Turkish border to the house were the captives are being held.
Abbas Shoueib, one of the hostages, called on his daughter to block roads in order to pressure the government to secure his release
“Stay on the road, don’t listen to anybody ... so that our fate will not be similar to that of Imam Musa Sadr,” he said.
Media outlets began to visit the kidnapped after Abu Ibrahim called on reporters Monday to meet the pilgrims in Izaaz to relay the captors’ demands.