Nine Lebanese pilgrims released in hostage swap deal
One of the nine Lebanese Shiite pilgrims abducted by rebels in Syria is greeted upon arrival in Bir al-Abed in the southern suburbs of Beirut on October 19, 2013, after being released in Turkey the previous day. (AFP)
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Lebanese officials expressed relief on Saturday over the near return of nine Lebanese pilgrims who were kidnapped by rebels in Syria last year.
Speaker Nabih Berri congratulated the nine men and their relatives.
“We thank the state of Qatar for following up the case and mediating, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Turkey for cooperating with the exerted efforts to secure their safe return,” Berri said.
The pilgrims were part of a group of 11 hostages taken by a rebel faction in northern Syria in May 2012. Two were later released, but the nine had been held since, causing friction in the region and sparking the August kidnapping in Beirut that saw two Turkish Airlines pilots abducted.
In Beirut's southern suburbs, the families of the nine Lebanese gathered Friday night at a travel agency that they went to Iran with, some of them weeping.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam followed up the measures taken to safely return the nine men back to Lebanon with caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, who in turn briefed him on the efforts made to end the case.
Salam congratulated the men and their families and thanked all the sides that helped secure their release.
He also praised the efforts exerted by General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim.
The release came after Ibrahim traveled to Damascus to discuss a prisoner exchange deal to free the group.
For his part, former Prime Minister lauded the release of the men, hoping that the sufferings of other prisoners and abductees would also end.
Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel also praised the efforts exerted to end the abduction of the nine men.
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