Turkish ambassador to Lebanon denies Turkey's responsibility for Lebanese pilgrim abduction
Vehicles of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) are parked at the Turkish engineering construction company's base (AFP/MAHMOUD ZAYYAT)
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Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon Inan Ozyildiz wondered how his country could be responsible for the abduction of the Lebanese pilgrims in Syria, saying that Turkey does not even have an embassy or consulate in the neighboring country, reported As Safir on Tuesday.
He told the daily: “Our negotiations to release all the pilgrims failed because of the complexity of the case.”
“What will Turkey gain in delaying their release? What is it seeking to achieve if its interests are being harmed?” he asked.
“How could Turkey have kidnapped the pilgrims? Does it have control over Syrian territories?” he wondered.
“It cannot be responsible for the abductions that have been taking place and it only intervened in the case from a humanitarian approach and in return it was met with a second abduction of Turkish nationals in Lebanon in less than a year,” said Ozyildiz.
Commenting on the kidnapping of two Turkish pilots in Lebanon on Friday, the ambassador remarked: “The case is in the hands of Lebanon's security and political authorities.”
He added that he is in contact with all security officials, including General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, to follow up on the case.
He stated that his role as an ambassador is aimed at maintaining good ties between Lebanon and Turkey.
Ozyildiz said however that Turkey's decision to advise its citizens against traveling to Lebanon is only a preliminary measure and further ones will be taken if any new development takes place in the case of the two pilots.
A Turkish pilot and co-pilot were kidnapped by gunmen on Friday.
Six gunmen intercepted a van carrying the Turkish Airlines employees from Rafik Hariri International Airport to a hotel in the Ain Mreisseh seafront at dawn Friday, kidnapping the two pilots - Murat Akpinar and Murat Agca - but leaving the four other crew members behind.
The attack prompted Turkey to issue a travel warning urging its citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to Lebanon and those already present in the country to leave.
Mohammed Saleh, a relative of the pilgrims held in Aazaz, was arrested on Sunday in connection to the kidnapping.
A widely-informed security source told As Safir: “He revealed the names of the individuals linked to the abduction.”
He also said that the pilots were kidnapped in a hope to exchange them with the nine pilgrims.
Saleh's relatives denied to As Safir however that their son was linked to the case, saying that he only received messages of congratulations on his telephone when news of the abduction broke out.
Meanwhile, caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told As Safir that Saleh is considered as a witness in the kidnapping and not a participant.
His release from custody is in the hands of the General Prosecution, he added.
In May 2012, eleven Lebanese pilgrims were kidnapped in Syria's Aleppo region as they were making their way back to Lebanon by land from pilgrimage in Iran.
Two of them have since been released, while the rest remain held in Syria's Aazaz region.
Their relatives have repeatedly blamed Turkey for the kidnapping, vowing to take measures against its interests in Lebanon, but they have however denied having links to the Turkish pilots' abduction even though they welcomed it.
They also threatened on Monday to kidnap “any Turkish national on Beirut's streets,” after the Internal Security Forces' Intelligence Bureau failed to release Saleh.
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