Caretaker Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud warned Saturday that the abduction of two Turkish Airlines pilots will deal a blow to Lebanon’s tourism industry and could be the last nail in the coffin of the tourism sector.
“What happened could be the last nail in the coffin of the tourism sector,” Abboud told LBCI, 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.
Abboud said the incident comes at a time when officials are already attempting to reduce the impact of the existing travel advisories by the Arabian Gulf countries.
“Moreover, the land borders have been shut down and an airplane ticket from Jordan to Lebanon has jumped to $700,” he said.
The minister also held the government responsible for neglecting to fully resolve the growing number of kidnapping incidents in the country.
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 as soon as Hezbollah will quit 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 .
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 .