BEIRUT: The Lebanese government has received “positive signals” from Turkish authorities that some of the nine Lebanese hostages still held in Syria might be released soon, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Monday.
“We have received some positive signals that some of the Lebanese kidnapped in Syria might be released soon,” Charbel told The Daily Star.
“The Turkish side is trying to secure the release of all the kidnapped Lebanese in Syria as soon as possible,” he said.
Asked if the release could take place before Eid al-Adha holiday, which falls on Oct. 26, Charbel said: “Inshallah.”
“We are seeking to win the release of all the kidnapped Lebanese as soon as possible,” he added.
Charbel is part of a ministerial committee tasked with resolving the issue of Lebanese hostages held by Syrian rebels since May. The committee, which is headed by Deputy Premier Samir Mouqbel and also includes the ministers of foreign affairs, labor and justice, has been in contact with the Turkish authorities on the issue. It has kept silent on the results of its contacts.
Charbel refused to give details of the information he had received from the Turkish side that made him optimistic about the issue of the hostages.
The minister, who has visited Turkey along with General Security Chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim to follow up on the issue of the Lebanese hostages with Turkish officials, said a new visit to Ankara would signal the release of some hostages.
Hopes for a resolution for the issue of the Lebanese hostages in Syria have risen since captors from the rebel Free Syrian Army have released two hostages: Hussein Ali Omar in August and Awad Ibrahim last month.
In addition to the nine remaining Lebanese hostages held by the FSA, Hassan Meqdad and another Lebanese were also held by Syrian rebels.
The release of Omar and Ibrahim followed mediation efforts by the Committee of Muslim Scholars in Lebanon. The committee has been involved in efforts to win the release of the hostages.
After Ibrahim’s release, one of the pilgrims’ captors, identified as Abu Ibrahim, told reporters that securing the freedom of the men still being held is “very difficult due to their record.”
He said that their release depended on whether Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah issued an apology to the Syrian people for his support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
However, Nasrallah again refused in a televised speech last week to issue an apology.
The 11 Shiite pilgrims, along with their relatives, were abducted near Aleppo’s Azaz on May 22 while returning from a pilgrimage in Iran. Hours later, the Syrian captors released all but the 11 men and called on Nasrallah to apologize to the Syrian people for his continued support for the Syrian regime.
The abduction sparked a wave of retaliatory kidnappings of Turks and Syrians by armed groups in Lebanon. However, the Lebanese Army launched a security dragnet in Beirut’s southern suburbs last month that led to the release of the kidnapped Syrians and Turks and the arrest of their captors.