Turks, Lebanese make hostage deal
BEIRUT — Nine Lebanese pilgrims abducted in Syria and two Turkish pilots held hostage in Lebanon returned home Saturday night, part of an ambitious three-way deal cutting across the Syrian civil war.
Thousands of well-wishers greeted the Shiite pilgrims in Beirut, with one man being carried out of the airport on the shoulders of a crowd. Meanwhile, a plane carrying the two freed Turkish Airlines pilots landed in Istanbul, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials greeted them.
Their planes departed just minutes apart, crisscrossing in the skies as part of the carefully calibrated plan. The hostage release ends an ordeal that began a year and a half ago when Syrian rebels kidnapped the pilgrims, triggering tit-for-tat kidnappings that included the two Turkish pilots.
The deal, negotiated by Qatar and Palestinian officials, was meant to include freeing dozens of women held in Syrian government jails to satisfy the rebels who abducted the pilgrims. However, it wasn't immediately clear Saturday night whether any of the women had been freed. The Syrian government and its official SANA news agency did not mention any such release.
The nine Shiite pilgrims were kidnapped in May 2012 while on their way from Iran to Lebanon via Turkey and Syria. Turkish Airlines pilots Murat Akpinar and Murat Agca had been held since their kidnapping in August in Beirut.
Their abductions show how the chaos from the Syrian civil war, now in its third year, has spilled across the greater Middle East. The men described facing similar despair and hardships while in captivity.
“For the first 15 days, we were kept in a room and didn't see the light of day,” Akpinar said in a hastily organized news conference after landing in Istanbul. He said he and his colleague were guarded by dozens of gunmen. “It was impossible for us to escape,” he said.
In Beirut's international airport, hundreds of relatives shouted and screamed as the pilgrims filed in. Most of the freed men wore tidy plaid shirts, their faces visibly tired.
“My son, my son!” one woman sobbed.
Dozens of green-clad Lebanese soldiers tried to keep order as crowds heaved forward.
One pilgrim accused his kidnappers of not offering the hostages medical care.
“We wished that any of them had any kind of values,” said the pilgrim, who did not give his name in the chaos. “We were with people who couldn't tell a female camel from a male camel,” he said, referring to an Arabic proverb to describe an ignorant person.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- South African army to protect immigrants
- Hungary, Poland angry about Comey equating their Holocaust roles to Germany’s
- UNHCR: Weekend shipwreck deadliest ever in Mediterranean
- Navy aircraft carrier Roosevelt rushes to Yemen to block Iran’s arms
- U.S.-led coalition conducting surveillance flights over Tikrit
- Al-Shabab unleashes terror on ministries in Somalia attack
- Obama warns Iran to respect sovereignty
- Netanyahu says Iran, Nazis have same goal
- Al-Qaida exploits chaos in Yemen, seizing weapons depot
- Report: Iraqi security forces kill Saddam aide al Douri, but DNA will confirm
- Replica of ship that aided American cause sets sail