Lebanon News

Sleiman sees positive development in the case of Syria hostages

Sleiman promised to press the case of the Lebanese hostages. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra/HO)

BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman said Monday he expected a “positive development” in the case of the 10 Lebanese hostages held in Syria, but would not elaborate on the issue in order to protect the men’s safety.

For his part, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said “things were moving in the right direction and the hostages will be gradually released,” adding that the Turkish mediation in the case was serious and professional.

Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Meqdad clan told The Daily Star that one of the 10 hostages will be released in the coming days in return for the release of a Turkish bus driver who was kidnapped in Beirut in late July.

The bus driver, Abdel-Basset Orsolan, was abducted by a group that identified itself as “Mukhtar al-Thaqafi Brigades.” The group is believed to be affiliated with the families of the Lebanese hostages.

Orsolan was taken a few days after the Meqdad clan kidnapped Turkish national Aydin Tufan Tekin and four Syrian nationals in a bid to free a clan member held by anti-Assad rebels.

The kidnapping of the two Turks broke the stalemate in the case of the Lebanese hostages, according to Maher Meqdad.

“Nothing would have been achieved regarding the pilgrims who were held near Aleppo had it not been for the kidnappings of the two Turks.”

He added, however, that Tekin’s fate is linked to that of his kinsman, Hasan Meqdad, and would not be released in return for freeing the remaining 10 pilgrims held in Syria.

The location of Tekin and four Syrian hostages remains unknown after 50 members of the Meqdad clan relocated the men following a Lebanese Army raid on the Meqdad neighborhood in the Beirut southern suburb of Rweis.

Maher Meqdad said clan members who were in charge of securing the hostages evacuated the area where they initially kept them in order to avoid a clash with the Army.

The Army launched Friday night a series of raids as part of an operation to free the Turkish businessman and the four Syrian nationals who are being held by the Meqdad clan.

It arrested a number of suspects including Sheikh Hasan Meqdad, Maher’s brother.

Maher told The Daily Star he knew nothing about the fate of the kidnappers and the hostages.

“I am not one of the kidnappers. I am simply the clan’s spokesman,” he said, denying there was an arrest warrant against him. “Ever since they left, we have not managed to establish any contact with them.”

The Army is still trying to free the kidnapped and arrest the captors.

“We will help the Army locate them if we happen to know something, but we also want the Army to help us locate Hasan,” Maher said.

Sleiman told the National News Agency in an interview Monday he had ordered the release of all the kidnapped.

“From the very beginning, I ordered the release of all those who were kidnapped in Lebanon. What we care about now is results, and I fully trust the Army on that,” the president said.

During a chat with reporters, Mikati also discussed the Lebanese Army’s ongoing raids in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, noting that no one is above the law.

“We were waiting for the [right] opportunity for the Army’s mission to be successful, and it is doing its job in imposing the authority of the state and securing the release of the kidnapped and no one is above the state,” the prime minister said.

“The decision to provide the Army with the government’s cover to do its job was taken beforehand, but the timing to implement [the security plan] was up to the Army’s leadership,” Mikati said.

Speaker Nabih Berri said in remarks published Monday that the state should impose its authority throughout Lebanon, including Beirut’s southern suburbs.

“The state should extend its authority everywhere and detain all drug dealers,” Berri told An-Nahar newspaper, adding that the police should carry out their duties without any obstruction. “Beirut’s southern suburbs aren’t an isolated island. Let the Army officers and soldiers get into our homes. They are most welcome.”

The Lebanese Army foiled the attempted kidnapping of Syrian refugees in north Lebanon, it said in a statement Monday.

Lebanese soldiers were on high alert Sunday that an abduction could take place near the port city of Tripoli and eventually stopped the perpetrators in the act, an Army statement said. Twelve people were arrested.

The Army said the would-be kidnapping targeted Syrian refugees sympathetic to opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“After a heated pursuit we were able to get our hands on a gang of six, and from there the armed forces were able to arrest three more people in the Bahsas-Tripoli area, who were captured as they tried to arrest someone from the Syrian opposition,” the statement said.

Three more were detained after questioning. – With Reuters

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 11, 2012, on page 3.




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