Lebanon: Concern that IATA may declare Beirut airport unsafe


Turkish pilots kidnapped in LebnaonThe security setback witnessed by Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut as a result of the kidnapping of the two Turkish pilots and the subsequent damage to the Lebanese Turkish relations has prompted many in Lebanon to raise the issue of relocating the International airport to amore secure location inside Lebanon and away from the Hezbollah stronghold where the current airport is located, knowing that this is not the first time the issue has been raised, according to a report by Kuwaiti Newspaper al Anbaa.

The Kuwaiti daily added that Lebanese civil aviation authority is extremely concerned that IATA (The International Air Transport Association ) may declare the Rafik Hariri International Airport unsafe and this could deal a severe blow to Lebanon’s tourism industry and travel in general.

Earlier today Caretaker Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud warned during an interview with LBCI that “What happened could be the last nail in the coffin of the tourism sector,” adding that the “incident would have an adverse effect on the tourism sector and harm the economy as a whole given that tourism represented more than 20 percent of Lebanon’s GDP.”

Early on Friday, 6 gunmen gunmen reportedly stopped a bus , boarded it and kidnapped Turkish Airlines Pilot Murat Akpinar and his co-pilot Murat Agca ( who were on their way to their hotel in Beirut) at the Cocodi Bridge on Beirut’s airport road, less than a kilometer from Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport and drove off in in a silver BMW X3 and a black KIA Picanto.

An unknown group that goes by the name of “Visitors ( Zouwar) of Imam al-Rida ” claimed responsibility for the kidnapping .Lebanon’s National News Agency NNA said on Friday that the this group issued a statement saying that the (Turkish ) pilots “will only be released when the Lebanese hostages in Syria return to Lebanon.

It appears that this group is connected to the relatives of the 11 Shiite pilgrims who were kidnapped in Syria in May 2012 on their way from Iran to Lebanon. Turkey was involved in trying to help the Lebanese government in its negotiation to free the pilgrims from the Syrian rebels who kidnapped them in an Aleppo province.

Turkey which had nothing to do with the kidnapping , was accused by the relatives of not doing enough to free the pilgrims and for this reason they arranged during the past several months several rallies, sit-ins and protests against Turkish Airlines and the Turkish embassy in Beirut to pressure the Turkish government to do more.

The Syrian rebels released 2 of the kidnapped pilgrims and claimed that the remaining 9 Shiite pilgrims were members of Hezbollah and promised to release them as soon as Hezbollah quits supporting the Syrian regime in its deadly crackdown against the uprising.

One of the spokespersons for the Shiite pilgrims’ relatives , Sheikh Abbas Zgheib who is a also a member of the Highest Shiite council said the relatives of the kidnapped pilgrims support the abduction of the pilots.

“So far, there is no indication of any involvement of the [Shiite pilgrims’] relatives in the kidnapping of the Turkish airplane’s pilot and his co-pilot,” Zgheib told the National News Agency on Friday .

“The Shiite pilgrims’ relatives support the kidnapping, especially if it aims at putting an end to the detention of their relatives in Syria.” He said .

March 14 MP Mohammad Kabbara proposed on Saturday activating the Renee Mouawad airport in Kleyate (Matar al-Qulay`at), , for international travel since the Rafik Hariri International Airport has become a haven for terrorists

Describing the abduction as a terrorist act par excellence Kabbara said the airport is infiltrated by terrorists from the control tower all the way to its porters. He added that the kidnapping took place few meters away from the army checkpoint and yet the army could not secure the safety of the pilots

It is worth noting that the Renee Mouawad airport in Kleyate has all the equipment needed to make it operational, according to a report in Arabic dated September 2012 by the chairman of the committee in charge of airport operation Hamid Bakkar Zakaria and all it needs is a political green light to obtain the needed aviation agreements to operate it.

March MP Jean Ogassapian pointed fingers at Hezbollah and said the abduction of the Turkish Airlines pilots in Beirut bore the hallmarks of the militant Shiite group.

“No security incident takes place without the knowledge of Hezbollah,” Ogassapian said in an interview with Voice of Lebanon (93.3) radio station on Saturday.

“The area in which the kidnapping of the two pilots took place is under Hezbollah’s complete control.” He said and added

“The airport road is hostage to Hezbollah.”.

As expected Turkey’s Foreign Ministry issued a travel advisory on Friday in which it called on Turkish citizens to avoid traveling to Lebanon unless it is absolutely necessary .