Lebanese PM heads to Turkey over abduction of pilgrims

AFP , Wednesday 30 May 2012

Mikati heads to Turkey for talks with officials following mysterious kidnapping of Shia pilgrims in Syria

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati is heading to Turkey on Wednesday to follow up on the case of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims kidnapped in Syria, a government source told AFP.

"Mikati, commissioned by the cabinet, will travel Wednesday evening to Turkey, in order to communicate directly with the Turkish authorities" on the issue of the pilgrims kidnapped in Syria on May 22, the source said, on condition of anonymity.

On Friday, Mikati announced that the pilgrims had entered Turkish territory after they were freed and would soon arrive in Beirut. They were kidnapped in Syria while on their way home from Iran.

Mikati's office announced that the prime minister had spoken with Turkish foreign minister who confirmed that the Lebanese men were "well and are on their way to Beirut."

But on Saturday, a Turkish diplomatic source said the pilgrims were not in Turkey at all, adding to the confusion about their whereabouts.

"These people are not on Turkish territory. I think there has been some confusion," the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

On Sunday, head of opposition coalition the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, said the pilgrims were still held in Syria.

"We spoke with some parties who had contacts with the group (of captors) and we offered our assistance to have them freed," said the outgoing leader of the SNC.

No one has claimed responsibility for their abduction and Syria's armed opposition, the Free Syrian Army, has denied any involvement in the kidnapping.

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