BEIRUT: Turkey voiced concern Tuesday over the recent abduction of two Turkish Airlines pilots in Lebanon, saying the incident could endanger ties between Ankara and Beirut, as Iran voiced readiness to help in the search for the Turkish nationals.
According to the National News Agency, Davutoglu phoned caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour and "voiced his deep concern over the abduction and what may result in terms of negative repercussions to bilateral relations between the two countries."
Davutoglu also expressed hope Lebanese authorities would secure the release of Turkish Airlines pilot Murat Akpinar and his co-pilot Murat Agca, who were snatched at gunpoint early Friday as the crew members headed to their Beirut hotel from the capital’s international airport.
Authorities are looking for Ali Jamil Saleh, who is believed to be the mastermind of the abduction, a judicial source said Monday. Saleh is the son of one of nine Lebanese hostages being held in Syria. Another member of the Saleh family, Mohammad Saleh, was arrested Sunday in connection to the case.
The relatives of the Lebanese hostages, who hold Turkey responsible for the continued detention of their loved ones, threatened Monday to abduct any Turkish citizen in Beirut and its suburbs to protest the detention of Ali Jamil Saleh.
Hours after the kidnapping, a group calling itself Zuwwar al-Imam Ali al-Reda claimed responsibly for the abduction, demanding in exchange the release of nine Lebanese hostages.
According to the Lebanese state-run news agency, Davutoglu said that Ankara played no role in the kidnapping of the Lebanese "which was carried out by Syrian groups on Syrian territory."
For his part, Mansour stressed Lebanon rejected any act of kidnapping on its soil, expressing his country's keenness on maintaining solid ties with Turkey.
He also hoped Turkey would exert efforts to find a solution to the case of the Lebanese hostages.
Also Tuesday, Iran said Turkey had sought Tehran’s help in securing the release of the pilots.
“Davutoglu asked his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salihi in a phone conversation that Iran offer assistance in the search for the Turkish pilots,” Abbas Araqchi, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said during a news conference in Tehran, according to Fars Arabic service.
Araqchi, according to Fars, also said that his country would not hesitate to help find the hostages in Lebanon if the resources are available.
Sheikh Abbas Zogheib, tasked by the Higher Shiite Council to follow up on the case of the Lebanese in Syria, said Iran should interfere and help in the release of both the kidnapped in Lebanon and Syria.
“Iran should intervene to resolve the case of those in Lebanon and the kidnapped in Syria,” Zogheib told The Daily Star.
He added that Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Ruknabadi, had told him Tehran was willing to help resolve the case.
Higher Shiite Council deputy head Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan and Lebanon's Grand Jaafarite Shiite Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Qabalan met earlier Tuesday with General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, who is tasked with mediating between Turkey and Syria over the case of the Lebanese hostages.
The rebels have demanded the release of female detainees in Syrian prisons in exchange for the Lebanese.
Zogheib, who attended the meeting, said the council asked Ibrahim about new developments in the case.
“Our case has taken a positive turn and it seems things are moving faster in the right direction,” Zogheib said.
Although he declined to link the abduction of the Turks to new developments in the case of the Lebanese, Zogheib said the former was having an impact on the latter.
“Turkish [officials] are unfortunately legitimizing the kidnapping,” he said.
Zogheib also said Hezbollah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri were exerting “tremendous efforts” in keeping the situation on the ground safe and calm.
“Hezbollah and Speaker Berri are exerting pressure on the relatives of the kidnapped to maintain a tight grip on the situation,” he said.
For his part, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan said during his meeting with Ibrahim that public facilities should remain at a distance “from anything that could disrupt them or the daily work of its employees particularly that our nation is going through a difficult phase.”
He also praised Ibrahim’s efforts in following up on the case and urged all security agencies to use their resources and ties to secure the release of the Lebanese in Syria.
Relatives of the Lebanese hostages claim Turkey, which supports the Syrian opposition, has the ability to persuade the rebels into releasing their loved ones.
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