Lebanese pilgrims disappear somewhere between Syria and Turkey
Long wait at the airport: relatives wait for pilgrims to arrive
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A group of Lebanese Shiite pilgrims kidnapped in Syria and said by Lebanese authorities to have reached Turkey are not in the country after all, a Turkish diplomatic source said on Saturday.
“These people are not on Turkish territory. I think there has been some confusion,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity. The group was reported as having arrived in Turkey on Friday by Lebanese Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil.
But on Saturday Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said in a statement he was postponing a visit to Turkey following “information indicating that contacts and efforts to free the Lebanese still continue.”
Doubts about the pilgrims’ whereabouts first emerged a few hours after Khalil’s announcement on Friday when Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said the group’s return to Lebanon had been delayed over “logistics”.
“They are well but there is a delay due to logistical problems,” Charbel said on Friday. “Maybe they are being debriefed (by Turkish authorities),” he added without further details.
But an Istanbul-based member of the opposition Syrian National Council told AFP he had information indicating that the Lebanese –Shiite pilgrims abducted earlier in the week in northern Syria –never entered Turkey.
“As far as we know, the Lebanese abductees have not entered Turkey, as of noon Saturday,” he said, asking not to be identified.
Mikati added to the confusion on Saturday saying he had cancelled a visit to Turkey.
“It was decided that I visit Turkey today to express my thanks following the assumption that the Lebanese citizens had been freed,” Mikati said.
“But since this (release) has been delayed, I decided to postpone the visit” to another unspecified date, he said, adding the decision was taken in coordination with Turkish officials.
Mikati’s office declined to give elaborate further on the fate of the missing Lebanese.
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