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Freed Lebanese journalist Fidaa Itani returns to Beirut

Released journalist Fidaa Itani smiles upon his arrival at Beirut airport, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: A Lebanese journalist who was held for six days by Syrian rebels returned to Beirut Thursday and urged Lebanese authorities to work on winning the release of the nine Lebanese held by Syrian rebels since May.

Hugging his 10-year-old daughter, Fidaa Itani told reporters at Rafik Hariri International Airport that while he was released from imprisonment, nine Lebanese are still kidnapped.

“Something serious should be done, not only on the official level for these nine,” he said.

Itani said that as a witness to Arab uprisings, particularly the one in neighboring Syria, he believes that the Syrian revolution has witnessed an “unsatisfactory development” over the past three months.

Itani, who works for LBCI and is a staunch supporter of the rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, was reporting from Azaz, in the Syrian district of Aleppo, when he was put under house arrest by rebels.

The Free Syrian Army Azaz Northern Storm Brigade said Saturday they were holding the journalist in order to keep secret their tactics for the revolution. Meanwhile, nine of 11 Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped by rebels in May in Azaz are still being held.

Itani said he does not mind going back to Syria again, but said that the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria should apologize for arresting him.

Itani said he was imprisoned for six days, reversing earlier remarks he made when he was still held by rebels, in which he said that he was “free” with the FSA.

Receiving Itani at the airport was Information Minister Walid Daouk, the journalist’s relatives and colleagues.

The information minister congratulated Itani for his safety. “We had six annoying days and our thoughts were with him and with the Lebanese detained since six months.”

He said that the ministerial committee tasked with following up on the case of the nine kidnapped Lebanese is doing its best to secure their release.

“The president, prime minister and foreign minister are accompanying the committee’s work to win their release as soon as possible.”

Itani crossed into Turkey late Wednesday night and headed to the Lebanese Embassy in Ankara where he was received by the charge d’affaires. He then traveled to Istanbul, where he boarded a plane to Beirut.

President Michel Sleiman said he was pleased by the release of Itani and expressed hope that this would be a prelude for the release of all remaining Lebanese held in Syria. Sleiman said he wished efforts to free those most recently kidnapped in Aleppo, as well as teenager Samer Naim would intensify, a statement from his office said.

Naim, 16, was arrested by Syrian authorities in September. His relatives and residents of the Akkar village of Tal Andeh blocked the international highway to Syria after a promise to release him Thursday did not materialize.

For his part, Prime Minister Najib Mikati congratulated Itani for his safe return. Addressing his Twitter followers, Mikati said he is continuing efforts to secure the release of all the remaining kidnapped Lebanese in Syria.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 02, 2012, on page 1.

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