BEIRUT: Interior Minister Marwan Charbel voiced optimism Thursday over the progress of talks aimed at securing the release of the 11 Lebanese kidnapped in Syria, saying the state has been working relentlessly toward an end to the crisis.
Speaking to reporters at the Interior Ministry after meeting with the relatives of the abductees, Charbel said: “I am optimistic that there are serious contacts and that the issue is being looked into seriously.”
He added that the Lebanese state has never abandoned the case over the past three months, adding that the government has been negotiating with Turkish officials away from the media to ensure smooth negotiations.
"The Lebanese state will never abandon the case of any kidnapped Lebanese," he said.
The 11 Shiite Lebanese who were on a pilgrimage to Iran were kidnapped by rebels on May 22 shortly after crossing from Turkey to Syria.
Charbel was in Ankara last week to follow up on the case as part of the emergency ministerial committee’s efforts to investigate the fate of the pilgrims.
Turkey's ambassador to Lebanon, Inan Ozyildiz, said Thursday he expected positive developments to surface particularly following Charbel's visit to Turkey.
"[Turkey] places Lebanon's stability as one of its priorities and expects positive signs to emerge in the case of the kidnapped Lebanese after the visit by Minister Charbel,” Ozyildiz told reporters after meeting with Lebanese Shiite cleric Sayyed Ali Fadlallah.
He added that his country did not wish to see the case of the kidnapped in Syria and Lebanon create sectarian tensions in Lebanon.
Reports surfaced earlier this month that four of the pilgrims had been killed in an airstrike by the Syrian army in the Aleppo district of Azaz where they were being held by Syrian rebels. However, French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius said Saturday that all 11 Lebanese were alive and well.
During his chat with reporters, a relative of one of the kidnapped accused Charbel of taking the case seriously only after the abduction of two Turkish nationals in Lebanon last week.
Charbel denied the allegation and said the government had been working tirelessly on the case.
“The case of the kidnapped is difficult because it involves a political element,” he said.
The minister also added that Speaker Nabih Berri and MP Oqab Sakr, who has been out the country for over a year, were also working on the case to secure the release of the kidnapped.