Relatives of pilgrims kidnapped in Syria hold demo

BEIRUT: The relatives of the group of Lebanese kidnapped in Syria last year protested Tuesday outside Arab League offices to appeal for help in securing the release of their loved ones.

The families of the nine remaining hostages held by rebels in Aleppo, Syria, gathered outside the offices of the Arab justice ministers, which is meters away from Lebanon’s Justice Palace.

The protesters, including women and children, held banners addressing the Syrian opposition, which for the first time took over Damascus’ vacant seat at an Arab League-sponsored conference in Qatar.

“How do you reject oppression while you bring [something] even worse,” a banner held by one woman at the rally said.

"We welcome your people and you kidnap ours, oh you callers of freedom,” another placard read.

Other signs called on President Michel Sleiman, currently attending the League summit in Doha, to do more to secure the release of the nine Shiite pilgrims.

According to Lebanon’s National News Agency, Sleiman met with Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the sidelines of the League summit, and urged that “Turkey exert every effort within its means to secure the release of the nine Lebanese kidnapped in Syria.”

Ankara has repeatedly said it is exerting efforts to help secure the release of the abducted Lebanese.

The families, whose protest resulted in crippling traffic in Beirut, vowed to continue their movement and block more roads to ensure their voices are not ignored.

Eleven Lebanese were kidnapped by a rebel group in May of 2012 in Azaz after crossing from Turkey, returning from a pilgrimage in Iran. Two of them have been released so far.

Qatar recently appointed an official to follow up on their case after Lebanese officials traveled to Doha late last year, appealing for the Gulf country’s help given its close ties with the Syrian opposition.

The families have held several protests since the abduction and have even used burning tires and trash to block the roads in order to add further pressure on officials.

The Free Syrian Army said in December it would restart efforts to help free the pilgrims as per former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s request.



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