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Families of Lebanese hostages in Syria call for Hariri’s intervention to end ordeal

  • Families of the Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria stage a sit-in in front of the Turkish embassy in Rabieh, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: The families of 10 Lebanese hostages held in Syria call on former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to launch an initiative to secure their release, the spokeswoman for the families of the kidnapped pilgrims said Thursday.

“The issue of the kidnapped Lebanese is in the hands of Sheikh Saad Hariri who can intervene to end their ordeal,” Hayat Awali told The Daily Star.

“We call on Hariri to launch an initiative to resolve the hostage crisis. Despite political differences [with Hezbollah], we welcome Hariri’s intervention,” she added.

Awali said that if the 10 remaining hostages held by Syrian rebels for more than three months were freed as a result of Hariri’s mediation efforts, the leaders and residents in the predominantly-Shiite southern suburbs of Beirut, a stronghold of Hezbollah, would express their gratitude for the former prime minister.

“We will hang banners in Dahiyeh thanking Hariri for his efforts.”

Awali insisted Future MP Okab Saqr and Hariri, through his contacts with Turkish authorities, were “the only ones capable of resolving the hostage crisis.”

Awali denied reports that the families had actually issued a statement Thursday in which they appealed to Hariri to intervene to secure the freedom of their loved ones.

“The hostage issue is a national issue. We appreciate efforts by anyone to resolve it.”

Syrian rebels abducted 11 Lebanese Shiites when they crossed into Syria from Turkey on May 22 on their way back home from a pilgrimage in Iran.

Hariri was reported to have made contacts with Turkish authorities aimed at securing the freedom of the hostages a few days after their abduction. He even sent his private jet to Turkey to fly the hostages home when they were supposed to have been freed.

Hopes for this issue to be resolved have risen since last month’s release of one hostage.

Hussein Ali Omar, one of the 11 hostages, was released on Aug. 25 by the rebel Free Syrian Army. The FSA said that Omar’s release came in response to a request by the head of the Committee of Muslim Scholars in Lebanon, Sheikh Hasan Qaterji.

The committee has been involved in efforts to win the release of the Lebanese hostages in Syria.

Awali, who was one of the Shiite women along with elderly men set free by the kidnappers after the abduction took place on May 22, said there had been no new development in the hostage crisis since the government last month formed a ministerial committee tasked with contacting Turkish authorities in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Awali’s remarks came a day after a Lebanese group involved in negotiations to free the hostages said that more time was needed to resolve the crisis.

“It seems that releasing the [hostages] requires more time due to the interference of additional regional and international sides in the issue, along with the rising intensity of battles [between the Syrian army and rebels] in the area where it was announced the captives are being held,” the Committee of Muslim Scholars said in a statement Wednesday.

Sheikh Salem al-Rafei, the deputy head of the committee, returned Wednesday from Turkey, where he conducted weeklong negotiations with the captors that hit a dead end.

Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told The Daily Star last week that efforts were being made to secure the release of the Lebanese hostages in Syria all at once.

Charbel, part of the ministerial committee on the Lebanese hostages, said Omar’s release had set the stage for an overall solution to the issue of the Lebanese captives as well as the Syrians currently being held in Lebanon.

Lebanon’s Shiite Meqdad clan kidnapped more than 20 Syrian nationals and a Turkish businessman in Lebanon last month in retaliation for the kidnapping of a family member.

The clan has released all but four Syrian hostages and the Turkish businessman in order to press for the release of Hasan Meqdad.

The clan said the four Syrians were linked to the FSA. Another Turkish national was kidnapped by a Shiite group for leverage over the release of the Lebanese hostages in Syria.

The Meqdad clan contends that Turkey is the only country with influence over the Syrian opposition.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 07, 2012, on page 3.
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