Kidnapped Lebanese Pilgrims Released

May 25, 2012  

A group of Lebanese Shiite pilgrims who were kidnapped in Syria were freed on Friday and arrived in Turkey, Lebanese Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said.

“We have received confirmation that they have been freed. They have arrived in Turkey and should return home today,” Khalil said, according to a report on AFP.

On Tuesday, Lebanon’s state news agency NNA said that 13 pilgrims were abducted in northern Syria as they made their way home from a pilgrimage in Iran. The report accused the rebel Free Syrian Army of having kidnapped them, but the FSA denied the claim.

It was not immediately clear in what circumstances the pilgrims were freed. On Thursday, Beirut said it asked Turkey to help free the tourists.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour told reporters he had spoken with his counterpart in Ankara about the issue.

The abduction came following deadly clashes in Lebanon between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime, and fears that the crisis in Syria would spill over into Lebanon.

NNA also reported the release of the pilgrims, saying that Prime Minister Najib Mikati received a call from his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu who assured him they were “safe and on their way to Beirut.”

Meanwhile, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah welcomed news of the pilgrims’ release, AFP reported, and renewed his support for the regime of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

“If this abduction was aimed at putting pressure on our position (of support for Syria),” it failed, Nasrallah was quoted by AFP as having said.

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