Syria\Lebanon- Almost fro two days; contradictory news has been still coming out of Syria & Lebanon as Beirut officials reported early on Friday that Lebanese hostages kidnapped in Syria had been freed and were safe in Turkey.
On Saturday, Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said that the
Lebanese kidnapped in Syria, had been delayed for "logistical
reasons" and would reach Lebanon in hours from Turkey.
"They are in good health, and they were being questioned by
Turkish officials," Charbel told reporters at Beirut airport.
Lebanese officials produced no sign of the hostages at the centre of a kidnap drama heightening tensions over the conflict in neighboring Syria. The news was greeted with pleasure by the Lebanese prime minister and a gathering of Hezbollah followers.
The twist in a hostage drama that has inflamed political tensions in a country divided between foes and friends of the uprising in Syria came as the Violence in Syria took a broader turn in the region on Tuesday after Syrian rebels reportedly kidnapped 13 Lebanese Shiite Muslims as they were headed home by bus from a pilgrimage in Iran.
Press reports said on Tuesday that 13 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims were kidnapped by members of a rebel group. The abductions of the pilgrims were feared to further fuel sectarian tensions in Lebanon over the revolt in neighboring Syria.
Press reports on Friday said that Syrian rebels released on Friday Lebanese hostages kidnapped in northern Syria, an Islamist cleric who brokered their release said.
Beirut Lebanese hostages kidnapped in Syria will be set free "within hours", an Islamist cleric who is brokering their release said on Friday.
"The process is in its final stages, they will be released within hours God willing," Shaikh Ebrahim Al Zoaby told Reuters.
Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told reporters at Beirut airport the hostages were in Turkey, had been delayed for “logistical reasons” and would reach Lebanon in hours. He said they were in good health, and speculated they were being questioned by Turkish officials.
He was explaining to a restive crowd why the captives had failed to appear hours after Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s office said that Turkey had confirmed release of the hostages, who were snatched by gunmen in northern Syria as they returned from a religious pilgrimage this week.
Lebanese Prime Minister Mikati confirmed the men were released as he had received confirmation from Turkey that the hostages had been released, an aide said.
“The prime minister received a call from (Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet) Davutoglu (saying) the Lebanese hostages in Syria are well and are on their way to Beirut,” an aide to Mikati told Reuters.
A member of the fragmented body that claims to speak for Syria’s political opposition raised new doubts over their fate, saying their captors still held them.
“We are still working on the handover. They are still with the armed group,” Ahmad Ramadan of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) told Reuters, speaking from Istanbul.
Residents of the southern suburb of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold where the freed hostages live, flocked to the streets to celebrate with the men’s families. Women ululated and threw rice in celebration as fireworks flared overhead.
The freed hostages were supposed to fly to Beirut on a private plane belonging to former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, said an aide to Hariri, a political foe of Hezbollah which mobilized street protests against a government he led and helped bring it down last year.
Near midnight in Beirut, Hezbollah and another pro-Syrian Shi’ite Muslim faction issued a statement calling on those who gathered at the airport to meet the captives to go home until further notice and keep calm.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who had appealed for calm after the kidnappings, said on Friday they would not sway its support for Syria.
Nasrallah’s comments appeared to be an attempt to de-escalate the recent tensions.
“I also thank all the people who controlled their emotions and responded to our call for calm, wisdom and patience,” Nasrallah said, referring to a speech he gave earlier this week calling on his supporters not to take to the streets in anger.
The gunmen who kidnapped the pilgrims had released the women travelling on the bus, some of whom said the kidnappers wanted to swap the hostages for Syrian insurgents in Syrian government custody.
The hostages were believed to be 11 Lebanese and one Syrian driver. Lebanese and Syrian officials have blamed Syrian rebels for the kidnappings, but nobody has claimed responsibility.