BEIRUT: Caretaker Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi said Friday he was upbeat that Lebanese hostages in Syria could be released soon, saying it was likely the year-long episode could be over soon.
“There is a great probability more than any other time that the kidnapped will be released soon,” Qortbawi told The Daily Star after talks with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Grand Serail.
Qortbawi said he preferred not to give more details to protect the negotiation process.
His remarks came after the head of General Security Brig. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim was expected to begin negotiations with the Syrian government over the kidnappers’ demands.
A Syrian rebel group who kidnapped nine Lebanese Shiites last year in the Aleppo district of Azaz is seeking the release of dozens of female detainees in Syrian prisons in exchange for the men. Two of the Lebanese have been released so far.
Meanwhile, the families of the pilgrims continued their protests Friday, holding a sit-in outside the Beirut offices of the Turkish company Pegasus Airlines. A manager at Pegasus Airlines told The Daily Star their operations were temporarily relocated to a different branch in the city because of the protest.
Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon Inan Ozyildiz described the daily sit-ins by the families as going too far and losing sight of their goal, according to an interview published by An-Nahar newspaper Friday.
"Such behavior is crossing the line whether [the protest] outside the Turkish Airlines or outside the Turkish force working with UNIFIL since 2007 for the purpose of peacekeeping in Lebanon," Ozyildiz said.
The local paper also quoted him as voicing his concern to caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour that the sit-ins "have strayed from their main objective."
A spokesperson for the relatives of the hostages criticized the remarks by the Turkish ambassador, saying the official should think twice before releasing such statements.
Sheikh Abbas Zogheb, who represents the families, said Ozyildiz’s remarks as unacceptable and disrespect the Lebanese state.
“Such talk is unacceptable and is totally rejected not to mention provocative,” Zogheib told The Daily Star, adding the protests were a natural reaction to such a violation of human rights.
“He should think well before saying stuff like that. It’s as if he doesn’t know what such talk might lead to,” he said.