Lebanese official in Syria for deal on kidnapped 'pilgrims'
October 18, 2013 - 12:46:26 pm
BEIRUT: A senior Lebanese security official headed to Damascus on Friday to discuss a prisoner exchange deal that could free nine Lebanese citizens kidnapped by Syrian rebels last year.
Major General Abbas Ibrahim would deliver a new list of Syrian prisoners that the kidnappers want released in an exchange, Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told Voice of Lebanon radio.
Ibrahim, who heads Lebanon's General Security agency, "will visit Syria today after receiving a new list with about 200 names of prisoners the kidnappers are asking to be released in exchange for the Lebanese nine," said Charbel.
The trip to Syria comes directly after Ibrahim's return from Turkey, which is helping to mediate the terms of the prisoner exchange.
Charbel said Syrian authorities were "cooperating very well" on the issue.
He said they had agreed to a release a previous list of prisoners handed over by the kidnappers of the nine Lebanese, which included fewer names.
The nine Lebanese citizens were kidnapped in May 2012 in Syria's northern Aleppo province, as they were returning from a pilgrimage to Iran.
Their families insist they were simply religious travellers, but their kidnappers accused them of belonging to the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, which backs the Syrian regime.
The relatives of the kidnapped have become increasingly desperate, staging demonstrations targeting Turkish offices in Lebanon and accusing Ankara of failing to use its sway with rebel forces to secure the release of the nine Lebanese.
On August 9, two Turkish Airlines pilots were kidnapped in Beirut by a previously unknown group which said they it had abducted them to secure the release of the nine Lebanese.
The relatives of the nine have denied responsibility for kidnapping the pilots, though they said they were happy to see additional pressure placed on Ankara.
On August 20, a Lebanese court ordered the arrest of 10 people in connection with the kidnap of the pilots, including some relatives of the missing Lebanese.
Haya Awali, the wife of one of the kidnapped Lebanese, told Voice of Lebanon radio on Friday that Ibrahim sounded optimistic upon his return from Turkey.
He told the families that "the atmosphere is positive," and that he was hopeful the Lebanese would be released "within days," she said. (AFP)