Turkish culture and trade centers remain closed in Lebanon
Ankara kept its cultural and trade centers in Beirut closed over the recent abduction of two Turkish Airlines pilots as Lebanese authorities took measures to protect Turkish interests in the country.
Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon Inan Ozyildiz, in comments to An-Nahar newspaper Monday, said the decision to temporarily close the Turkish Commercial Center and the Turkish Cultural Center in Beirut had been taken Friday, the day pilot Murat Akpinar and his co-pilot Murat Agca were snatched shortly after departing Beirut’s international airport.
“As of Friday, we temporarily closed the Turkish Commercial Center as well as the cultural center, already inactivate after its front door was damaged,” Ozyildiz told the local daily.
A Lebanese Army unit has been dispatched to boost security around the Turkish centers as well as the Turkish Airlines in Downtown Beirut. Lebanese soldiers in seven military trucks were seen deployed Monday in the vicinity of the Turkish interests.
Gunmen kidnapped Turkish pilot Akpinar and Agca at dawn Friday shortly after departing Beirut airport at dawn Friday, in an incident that has revived memories of the wave of kidnappings that targeted foreigners during the 1975-90 Civil War.
A previously unheard of group, Zuwwar al-Imam Ali al-Reda has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. It demanded in a statement the release of the nine remaining Lebanese pilgrims in Syria, saying: “Visitors’ [Lebanese hostages’] return: pilots’ release.”
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Sunday the Lebanese Army and security forces had mounted a manhunt to locate the two kidnapped Turkish pilots, predicting a happy end to the ordeal.
The Lebanese Army also deployed Sunday night on the airport road and set up observation points to prevent attempts by the families of the Lebanese hostages in Syria to block it.
The Army move came shortly after Adham Zogheib, a spokesman for the hostages’ families, was reported to have issued a one-hour ultimatum to the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch to release Mohammad Saleh, a relative of the hostages, or else the families would take escalatory measures, including closing the airport road and disrupting flights at the facility.
However, the Higher Shiite Council member designated with following up on the case of the Lebanese hostages in Syria denied the reports that the relatives were planning to disrupt flights at the Beirut airport over Saleh’s arrest.
Saeed Saleh, son of Jamil Saleh, one of the nine Lebanese hostages, told The Daily Star Monday that the relatives were giving officials time to resolve the case.
“We’re giving political efforts a chance to release Saleh before taking drastic action,” Saleh said.
Mohammad Saleh was arrested Sunday in connection with the pilots’ abduction that has triggered a nationwide condemnation, but was hailed by the hostages’ families.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Monday the hostages’ families have ruled out closing the airport road.
“A decision has been made not to block the road,” Charbel told the Voice of Lebanon radio station, adding that it was up to the prosecutor’s office to release Saleh from custody.
Security sources said Lebanese authorities are also keeping a close watch over Turkish tourists in Lebanon, staying up-to-date with their activities.