BEIRUT: Relatives of nine Lebanese pilgrims still held in Syria by a rebel group protested Thursday outside the Qatari Embassy, asking Doha to help secure the release of their loved ones.
Dozens of women and children gathered outside the mission’s headquarters in Ain al-Tineh at 7 a.m., blocking the entrance and preventing employees from entering the premises.
The protest is part of a series of steps that the relatives vowed to take at the start of the new year in a bid to pile further pressure on anti-Assad countries to secure the release of the Shiite pilgrims.
In an effort to contain the situation, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel met with a delegation of the families in the afternoon and informed them that he had contacted Qatari officials with regard to their case.
“[Charbel] began his contacts with the state of Qatar to help resolve this humanitarian case and there will be ongoing coordination between him and the committee of the families to follow up on developments,” Adham Zogheib, son of one of the kidnapped, told reporters after the meeting.
Eleven Lebanese men were kidnapped in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo shortly after crossing from Turkey on May 22 last year. They were on their way back to Lebanon from Iran, where they had been on a pilgrimage. Two of the kidnapped – Hussein Ali Omar and Awad Ibrahim – have since been released.
Speaking to reporters outside the embassy, Hayat Awali said the protest was only the beginning: “We are here to say that we will no longer remain silent and today’s step is just the start of more protests.”
The families vowed to continue their protests against countries that support the Syrian uprising, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, saying: “They will experience hardship as long as we do.”
The protests have focused mainly on the Turkish Embassy as the men were kidnapped near the Turkish border.
Last week, the relatives protested outside the Turkish Airlines office in Downtown Beirut; a December protest outside the Turkish Embassy prompted Ankara to issue an advisory against travel to Lebanon.
Ankara has repeatedly said it is working to help release the Lebanese, asking the families to be patient.
Labor Minister Salim Jreissati said Thursday that the government understood the steps taken by the relatives but they should be “within limits.”
“It is important that the relatives don’t harm the interest of Turkey, Qatar or Saudi Arabia in Lebanon because Lebanon respects the charters it signed [with these countries],” he added.
The minister also said the government remained in contact with Turkish authorities over the subject of the abductees.