News / Middle East

Freed Lebanese, Turkish Hostages Home

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, family members, officials welcome Murat Akpinar, Murat Agca, Istanbul, Oct. 19, 2013.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, family members, officials welcome Murat Akpinar, Murat Agca, Istanbul, Oct. 19, 2013.
Reuters
Two kidnapped Turkish pilots arrived in Istanbul after leaving Lebanon on Saturday and nine Lebanese hostages freed from Syria landed in Beirut, completing a hostage exchange after months of uncertainty.
 
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan greeted the Turkish Airlines pilots on the tarmac as they disembarked from a Qatar Airways jet and were met with cheers from family members.
 
The Lebanese, seized by Syrian rebels in May 2012, were freed and left northern Syria for Turkey a day earlier as part of the deal negotiated by Qatari mediators.
 
At Beirut International Airport, friends and relatives ululated and cheered as the men walked onto the tarmac.
"The situation is worse than you can imagine, we paid a heavy price," said one of the hostages, who was walking with a cane, apparently from an injury sustained in captivity.
 
The hostages' release may in fact be a three-way deal, Lebanese security sources said. They said the release of the Lebanese was originally contingent on the Syrian government's freeing of prisoners in state detention centers.
 
An opposition monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the government had released dozens of prisoners over the past few days as part of that agreement.
 
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the release underscored Turkey's diplomatic clout.
 
"The success of this process, which has been conducted under the instructions of our prime minister, proves once again the regional importance of Turkey," Davutoglu said in a Twitter post before the pilots landed in Istanbul.
 
The kidnappings highlight how complex and regionalized Syria's 2-1/2-year conflict has become. The civil war has acquired sectarian dimensions that have pulled in its neighbors.
 
Sunni Muslim countries such as Turkey largely back the Sunni-led uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule.
 
Shi'ite Iran backs Assad, as does the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is Shi'ite and supported by Tehran. Assad is from the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
 
'We didn't see daylight'
 
Security sources said the agreement required that the Lebanese hostages not leave Turkey until the Turkish ambassador in Beirut had seen the Turkish pilots, who had been kidnapped in retaliation for the snatching of the Lebanese.
 
One of the Turkish hostages said their captors treated them respectfully and did not use violence against them.
 
"We weren't treated badly, but the first 25 days were difficult. We didn't see daylight," Murat Agca told reporters.
 
The Lebanese hostages' families say they were religious pilgrims, but their kidnappers accused them of belonging to Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside Assad's forces in Syria.
 
The Turkish pilots were kidnapped by the family of one of the Lebanese hostages in order to press the Turkish government to help secure the group's release. Turkey has some influence with the Syrian opposition, having offered refuge and support to the rebels fighting Assad.
 
Abbas al-Shuaab, one of the freed Lebanese hostages, wrapped a Hezbollah flag from the crowd around his shoulders.
 
"They accused me of being in Hezbollah and I was not in Hezbollah," he said. "But from now on, I consider myself a soldier and fighter for [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah."

You May Like

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid