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Mikati briefs Hezbollah, Amal on Lebanese kidnapping

Relatives of Lebanese hostages who were abducted by armed Syrians in Aleppo, arrive at the Rafik Hariri International Airport on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati briefed Friday both Hezbollah and the Amal Movement on his talks with Turkish officials regarding the Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria last month.

Mikati’s meeting came hours before Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah's expected speech in response to the group that claimed the abduction late Thursday and demanded that the Hezbollah chief apologize for his support of Assad.

Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, who is also a political aide to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, along with Nasrallah’s chief political aide Hussein Khalil met at the Grand Serail with Mikati and Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour, who accompanied the prime minister to Turkey.

Mikati returned Thursday from Turkey, where he met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said his country would continue “intensive efforts” aimed at securing the release of the kidnapped.

Ministerial sources told The Daily Star Friday that the case of the kidnapped Lebanese was "long and complicated," but said that Turkish officials will continue with their efforts.

An unknown Syrian rebel group claimed the abduction of 11 missing Lebanese pilgrims Thursday night, and said that releasing them was contingent on Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah apologizing for his support of Syria.

"The kidnapped Lebanese are our guests and they are in good health ... negotiations to release the Lebanese are possible after Nasrallah apologizes for his last speech, in which he renewed his party's support for the regime of Bashar Assad," said the statement aired by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera.

The statement added that the rebels decided to extend the abductees' sojourn among them for several reasons, including the "fact that five of them are officers in Hezbollah, as well as the Houla massacre and Nasrallah's latest speech," which the group described as provocative.

Shiite pilgrims on their way back to Lebanon following a pilgrimage to Iran were kidnapped last week in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo. The women and elderly men were set free and returned to Lebanon shortly after the initial abduction. Eleven men remain in captivity.

But since the incident last week, conflicting reports on the whereabouts and health of the 11 men have emerged; none of the reports has been confirmed.

Their release had been scheduled for last Friday, according to Turkish officials, but for unknown reasons they remain in captivity.

Al-Jazeera showed photos and passports said to belong to the kidnapped.

Nasrallah has repeatedly voiced support for President Bashar Assad since the Syrian uprising began over a year ago and has urged the opposition to engage in dialogue with the government in a bid to save Syria from civil war.

In his latest speech marking the 12th anniversary of Liberation Day on May 25, Nasrallah said if those who kidnapped the pilgrims seek to exert pressure on Hezbollah, it will not work.

Meanwhile, Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani said Friday the case of the 11 Lebanese pilgrims abducted in Syria last month will have a negative impact on Lebanon's domestic affairs.

"The case of the Lebanese kidnapped in Syria will have negative repercussions on the domestic Lebanese reality," Qabbani told reporters upon arrival at Rafik Hariri International Airport. He had been on a trip to Kuwait.

"The kidnappers, regardless of the party to which they belong, should take into consideration that such an abduction is not ethical during wars even if it is a tit-for-tat move," he added.

 

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