x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Syrian rebels free Lebanese hostage

Syrian rebel fighters yesterday released a Lebanese man held hostage in Syria for three months. Tensions continue to rise in Lebanon over the civil war in Syria, with outbreaks of violence and a wave of abductions.

BEIRUT // Syrian rebel fighters yesterday released a Lebanese man held hostage in Syria for three months.

Hussein Ali Omar was one of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims captured on May 22 on the way back to Lebanon from Iran.

He crossed into Turkey after his release and flew in a private Turkish jet to Beirut, where crowds greeted him.

Mr Omar, wearing a red tie decorated with the Turkish flag "in recognition of Turkey's efforts to free me", appeared in good health and said he expected his 10 fellow pilgrims to be released soon.

A Kuwaiti man was kidnapped yesterday in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley. Issam Al Houti, 52, was seized from his car by a group of armed men.

Tensions continue to rise in Lebanon over the civil war in Syria, with outbreaks of violence and a wave of abductions. The UAE and other Arabian Gulf countries have advised their citizens to avoid the country.

A Lebanese security official said the kidnapping did not appear to have been carried out for political reasons. There have been a number of recent abductions by criminal groups for ransom, in the Bekaa region in particular.

Lebanon's prime minister Najib Mikati said yesterday he "wished that Turkish authorities will continue its efforts to release all the kidnapped Lebanese in Syria as soon as possible".

Ankara has played a key role in trying to bring about an end to the hostage drama that has inflamed tensions on the ground in Lebanon, where the impact of Syria's civil war is reverberating.

The country is largely divided between groups such as Hizbollah, who maintain support for the regime of Bashar Al Assad, and others, including the opposition March 14 Coalition, who oppose the Syrian president.

A little known group calling themselves the Syrian Revolutionaries in Aleppo claimed responsibility for kidnapping the 11 Shiite pilgrims in May and demanded that the Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah apologise for comments in support of the Assad regime.

Mohammed Nour, a rebel spokesman in the northern Syrian town of Azaz, said Mr Omar's release was in response to requests by Lebanon's Association of Muslim Scholars and an adviser to the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There was no indication as to the fate of the remaining 10 hostages, despite Mr Omar's assurance of their imminent release.

In addition to the 11 Shiite pilgrims abducted in Aleppo province in May, another Lebanese man, Hassan Moqdad, was kidnapped in Damascus this month. His capture sparked a wave of retaliatory kidnappings by the Moqdad clan, with more than 20 Syrians and a Turkish national taken in Lebanon.

Yesterday, however, a spokesperson for the family, Maher Moqdad, said they would release some of the hostages they were holding.

 

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters, Agence France-Press and the Associated Press