Freed Lebanese hostages heading home, Turkish pilots released
Two Turkish pilots that had been kidnapped in Beirut were freed and handed over to Lebanese security officials, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said Saturday.
The Turkish Airlines pilots were abducted in the Lebanese capital last August to pressure Turkey to step-in to help release nine Lebanese Shiite pilgrims kidnapped by opposition fighters in Syria.
The pilgrim hostages were part of a group of 11 people seized by Syrian rebels.
One of the Lebanese hostage’s families kidnapped the Turkish pilots to press Turkey to help secure the Lebanese hostages’ release.
The Lebanese citizens, taken hostage in northern Syria back in May 2012, were released earlier on Saturday and are heading to Turkey, Reuters said.
Their families say the men were religious pilgrims, but their kidnappers accused them of belonging to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Lebanon’s Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told Reuters the Lebanese hostages were expected to land in Beirut around 7 p.m. (1600 GMT)
Crowds of relatives and friends were already gathered at the airport and near the hostages’ homes to celebrate their return.
Syria’s civil war has acquired a sectarian dimension that crosses regional borders. Sunni Muslim countries such as Turkey largely back the Sunni-led uprising against four decades of Assad family rule. Shiite Iran backs Assad, as does Hezbollah, which is Shiite and supported by Tehran. Assad is from the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
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