Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said on Wednesday that Lebanese Shias kidnapped in northern Syria by insurgents hoping to trade the captives for detainees in Syrian government custody would be freed soon.
“Our information is that, God willing, the Lebanese will be released very soon,” he told Reuters. “We can’t say who is conducting the negotiations, but the matter is ongoing and, God willing, we’re going to reach a positive result.”
Mansour confirmed the party negotiating for the release of the hostages was Arab, but declined to specify further.
Families of Lebanese Shias abducted in northern Aleppo as they returned from pilgrimage in Iran on Tuesday blocked roads in mainly Shia neighbourhoods of Beirut, demanding the release of men they said were held captive by Syrian rebels.
Relatives of those being held said rebels who seized a bus carrying the pilgrims set free the females and elderly men, but held 13 men to demand the release of insurgents. Syria’s state SANA news agency said there were 12 captives, one of them a Syrian.
The Arabic-language Asharq Alawsat on Wednesday quoted Mustafa al Sheikh, a former Syrian general exiled to Turkey who claims to have influence over rebels on the ground, as saying his Free Syrian Army was not behind the kidnapping.
The abductions – which drew a call for calm from the head of Hezbollah, the Shia political movement and guerrilla group which is Syria’s top ally in Lebanon – follow the worst unrest in Beirut since 2008 sectarian clashes that threatened to become civil war.
At least two people were killed in gun battles between members of rival Sunni Muslim factions in Beirut on Sunday that spread from northern Lebanon – a stronghold of conservative Sunnis who back the Sunni-led revolt against Syria’s rulers, who belong to the minority Alawi sect.
The northern city of Tripoli saw fighting between Sunni foes of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Lebanese army and Alawi supporters of Assad that killed eight people this month after the arrest of a Sunni supporter of the Syrian revolt.
A Lebanese court on Tuesday released Shadi al Moulawi, who still faces a charge of membership in a “terrorist” group, on $333 bail on Tuesday, after the killing of two Sunni clerics at an army checkpoint in the north triggered the Beirut clashes.
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