“Given the current situation it is vital that our citizens avoid all travel to Lebanon,” said the announcement posted on the foreign ministry’s website. It also advised all Turkish citizens currently in Lebanon to leave if possible.
The two civilian Turkish pilots were kidnapped from an airport shuttle bus yesterday morning. The kidnapping is now understood to be an attempt to pressure Ankara over the ongoing detention of nine Lebanese citizens by Syrian dissidents.
Turkey openly supports opposition groups in the Syrian civil war. Many in Lebanon support the government of embattled Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, which is being supported politically and militarily by the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah.
The families of the nine Lebanese people kidnapped by Syrian opposition forces have denied involvement in yesterday’s kidnappings.
Sheikh Abbas Zogheib, who has been appointed by the Higher Shi’ite Council to monitor the situation of the Lebanese hostages in Syria, confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “the families of the detained had nothing to do with the kidnappings.”
However, both Zogheib and the families of the detained have expressed their support for the kidnappers. A spokesperson for one of the Lebanese families is reported to have said that “this is the only way Turkey will get the message.”
A Turkish official speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity responded to the concerns of the Lebanese hostages’ families by saying that Turkey has limited ability to intervene in the situation, given that “the kidnappers are Syrian and the kidnapped are Lebanese.”
As political tensions surrounding yesterday’s kidnapping increase, efforts from both Turkey and Lebanon to secure the pilots’ release.
Irshad Hormozlo, a senior advisor to Turkish president Abdullah Gül, has said that the same kidnappers thought to be responsible for yesterday’s incident have abducted other Turkish citizens in the past. He referred to a similar incident nearly a year ago that was resolved by the Lebanese authorities.
He also said that the group claiming responsibility for yesterday’s kidnapping, which is calling itself Zuwwar Al-Imam Rida, is a “fake organization.”
The Lebanese minister of the interior, Marwan Charbel, has announced that security forces are “looking into the kidnapping and undertaking appropriate investigations to uncover the details of the occurrence, and the driver of the bus [from which the pilots were kidnapped] is being interrogated.”
Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has reportedly spoken with the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, who aided the release of Turkish nationals kidnapped in a similar incident last year.
He is also reported to have spoken to former Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati regarding the incident. Mikati assured Davutoğlu that “security forces are doing all they can to find and release the detainees.”
In response to yesterday’s events, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) based south of Tyre, has taken additional security measures.
The Lebanese interior minister told Asharq Al-Awsat that “there is no danger to UNIFIL.”
Charbel added that according to government information, there are more than 300 Turkish tourists in Lebanon and more are expected to arrive. He emphasized that Lebanese security forces are taking special measures to ensure the safety of Turkish citizens in Lebanon.