Mikati links release of Turkish pilots, Lebanese hostages


Turkish pilots kidnapped in LebnaonLebanon’s Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati linked  the release of Lebanese  hostages in Syria to the release  of the Turkish pilots that were kidnapped in Lebanon ,  but   Ankara  urged Beirut  not to link the  two issues directly together.

He linked the releases during meetings  that were held separately with  Turkish Ambassador to  Lebanon Inan Ozyildiz  and caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel.

“The Lebanese government is carrying out all the appropriate measures to reveal the fate of the two Turkish pilots who were kidnapped on the airport road,” Mikati told Ozyildiz during their meeting at the Grand Serail,  according to The Serail  press office.

“[Mikati] stressed at the same time the importance of  exerting  extra efforts by the  Turkish authorities  to help secure the release of the Lebanese  Shiite pilgrims held in Azaz, Syria .” Mikati was quoted as saying .

Charbel’s office reported that the Turkish ambassador conveyed to the caretaker interior minister his country’s wish not to link the issue of the Lebanese hostages with that of the  kidnapped Turkish pilots.

Charbel reportedly agreed with Odyildiz that the two issues should be separated but  urged the Turkish ambassador to continue  with his efforts to win the release of the nine Lebanese hostages.

The Turkish pilots were kidnapped on August 9 by a group demanding that Turkey should use its influence with Syria’s rebels, who it backs, to secure the release of nine Lebanese Shiites kidnapped in Syria in May 2012.

A previously unknown group calling itself Zuwwar ( visitors of)  Imam al-Rida claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

It said Turkey was “directly responsible” for the nine Lebanese who went missing in Syria.

The families of the Lebanese pilgrims, who were returning from  Iran when they were kidnapped, have called repeatedly for the release of their relatives.

They accuse Turkey of not doing enough to that end.

Turkey, which had nothing to do with the kidnapping  has repeatedly said it was exerting efforts to free the Lebanese men.

The pilots were kidnapped in a majority Shiite area of Beirut, controlled mainly by the powerful Lebanese movement Hezbollah, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The whereabouts of the Turkish Airlines pilots  has been established, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said, Anadolu Agency reported on Tuesday.

“We have defined the pilots’ whereabouts and know that nothing threatens their lives”, Arinc said.