Nine Shiite Lebanese pilgrims in Syria have finally been freed after being held hostage for nearly a year and a half. The release was reportedly part of a negotiated deal which has also led to the release of two Turkish pilots being held in Lebanon.
A group of Syrian rebels were holding the Lebanese civilians hostage
since May 2012. The kidnappers kept issuing new demands,
claiming they had captured “subversives from the Lebanese
The pilgrims were on a bus returning to Lebanon from Iran. In Aleppo province, their bus was stopped by a group of Syrian rebels who then abducted the passengers.
Two of the hostages were later released, but the other nine remained in custody.
The kidnapping exacerbated regional tensions, leading to the
kidnapping of two Turkish Airlines pilots in Beirut, Lebanon.
The pilots were identified as Murat Akpinar and Murat Agca. The
two men had been taken hostage by the Zuwaar al-Imam Rida group,
which claimed responsibility, according to Lebanon's state news
agency. Both were handed over to Lebanese security officials on
Saturday, according to Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency.
Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel confirmed this Friday
that nine Lebanese hostages "are now in Turkish
territories," AP reported. "The story is over,"
Reuters had quoted him as saying. “In the next 24 hours, they
will be with us [in Lebanon]." He had additionally expressed
his wish that he would see the two pilots released, saying that
it "is all part of one deal."
The pilots' release was preceded by Turkish Foreign Minister
Ahmet Davutoglu stating that the the men could be freed
"within hours or days.”
Details of the negotiation process and who ran it remain unclear.However, Turkey is recognized as holding a considerable degree of influence over Syrian rebels.