Yesterday, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) MP Michel Aoun announced that he mediated between Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, and the leader of the Future Movement (FM), former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, which coincided with the restoration of security and political channels of communication between Hezbollah and the FM.
Is Lebanon witnessing a new political scene based on a five-party alliance in the government that can manage a truce, which would in turn allow the election of a new president?
In 2005, the four-party alliance excluded the FPM which had won an unequivocal majority of the Christian vote in the parliamentary elections. The new alliance includes, in addition to Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, the FM, the FPM’s Change and Reform bloc, the Phalange Party and the Progressive Socialist Party. Based on the sectarian considerations governing Lebanese politics, the sectarian representation in this alliance appears to be complete. This five-party alliance seems to have become a reality, as an increasingly positive environment seeps out little by little.
Aoun announced yesterday that he mediated between Hezbollah and the FM, and specifically between Nasrallah and Hariri. In addition, a step was taken in the same direction yesterday, prior to Aoun’s announcement, when the head of Hezbollah’s Liaison and Coordination Unit, Wafiq Safa, visited the new Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi at his apartment in Achrafieh.
The official goal of the meeting was to offer congratulations to Rifi for his ministerial appointment, but the form the meeting took gives it additional significance. In addition to Rifi and Safa, the meeting was attended by the head of the Internal Security Force’s (ISF) Information Branch, Colonel Imad Othman and director of the ISF Operations Room, Colonel Hussam al-Tannoukhi.
According to political sources, Tannoukhi – who is on good terms with the leaders of both Hezbollah and the FM – arranged the meeting which relaunched the security and political communication back channels between the two sides. This back channel had maintained contact between both parties until Rifi’s retirement and the rising political tension between Hezbollah and the FM.
While at Rifi’s home, Safa called the new interior minister, Nohad al-Machnouk, and congratulated him on his new post. Political sources said that this “positive environment comes as a follow-up to the efforts that resulted in the formation of the new government and can be relied upon to carry the government through future political junctures such as the ministerial statement and the presidential elections.”
In a related matter, Aoun confirmed that he met both Hariri and Nasrallah, explaining: “Whoever wants to conduct mediation to bring disparate parties closer together has to talk to everyone, that is why I met both of them.”
When asked if his willingness to accept Rifi as interior minister during consultations on government formation angered Hezbollah, Aoun replied: “I was not present during the distribution of ministries and I am not the prime minister charged with assigning ministers to the various ministries. There was a difference of opinion between Hezbollah and the FM on this issue. To form the government, we suggested a kind of solution based on exchanging posts.”
Regarding concerns over the ministerial appointments of Machnouk and Rifi, especially since the Interior and Justice ministries could facilitate the work of terrorists and takfiris, Aoun argued “this issue is handled by the judiciary and the government as a whole and does not rely on the authority of one or two ministers.”
Akhbar Al-Yawm News Agency revealed that a family dinner was held Thursday evening at Aoun’s home in Rabieh and it included FPM minister Gibran Bassil and the director of the Future Movement’s presidential office, Nader Hariri. The obstacles that were still facing the formation of the government were overcome at this meeting.
In addition, information emerged in the past few days that Bassil traveled to Saudi Arabia last week where he met Saad Hariri.
Lebanon’s March 14 Christians are banding together in an attempt to pressure former Prime Minister Saad Hariri about the government. However, their game will be over very soon. According to March 14 sources, “March 14 Christians are used by Hariri to fuel his battles then sacrificed when a settlement is reached.”
The smile on Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea’s face was not enough to convince French presidential envoy Emmanuel Bon that the situation is well. Geagea stressed that Hariri would never join Hezbollah in one government. Yet no matter how hard Geagea attempts to show confidence in his relationship with Hariri, he will never manage to cover up their discords.
Geagea remarked, “We are still in the stage of deliberations and negotiations regarding the government,” perhaps not noticing that Hariri announced from The Hague his willingness to join Hezbollah in the government.
MP Sami Gemayel spoke to Geagea via telephone for 15 minutes, assuring him that Kataeb will boycott the government, even if Hariri participates. He expressed his support for Geagea’s position favoring a neutral cabinet. Sami later announced, “We are not concerned with the nature of the government. What matters is its agenda.” Perhaps Sami had heard about Hariri’s positive attitude before the rest of Lebanese, hence his taking a middle ground.
Former minister Boutros Harb seemed ready to overcome the tensions that emerged between the Lebanese Forces and March 14 independent figures following the debate over the infamous Orthodox Electoral Law. Due to Hariri’s “concessions,” Harb now sees his alliance with the Lebanese Forces as the only available option to confront Hariri’s waiving of March 14 demands, mainly Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria.
At the peak of the confrontation, Hariri left his allies blundering. According to leaked information, Hariri’s statements on the sidelines of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon show “he is holding negotiations with the opposite side while his allies are in a whole different place.” Some March 14 sources even stressed that Hariri is going to participate in the upcoming cabinet “even if his allies refuse to join him.”
Hariri is willing to drop his Christian-Muslim partnership, and “March 14 will no longer be united.” Sources confirmed that Hariri cannot be part of any compromise regarding the government unless he receives a Saudi order.
March 14 Christian sources said, “There has been no Saudi password. Riyadh left the decision to its people in Lebanon so they do what they deem suitable. Hence, Hariri is seeking his own interests, not those of his alliance! Despite all that, some in Geagea’s and Gemayel’s circles still believe that Hariri negotiators are trying to reach a compromise that would include the Baabda Declaration in the government statement and would omit the word ‘resistance’ in order to gain leverage against Hezbollah.”
The Christian wing of March 14 is counting on “Sunni politicians to continue what Maronite politicians started in their policies against Syrian and Iranian hegemonies,” said a source. They hope Hariri “will change his mind about joining a government with Hezbollah if the party doesn’t return to the state and comply with all conditions.”
Geagea didn’t make any “loud statement” concerning Hariri’s latest remarks, neither did Gemayel, Harb, or anyone who sees himself as future president. These politicians are seeking to “buy time and announce positions that they can concede to Hariri when the time comes.”
Some March 14 Christians are convinced that “Hariri is not very pleased with his alliance with Geagea and Gemayel. Even though they all shared a common political position in 2005, Hariri still believes that he naturally belongs alongside Nabih Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt, whom his father used to reach compromises with.”
The burial of former Lebanese Finance Minister Mohammed Shatah next to assassinated ex-premier Rafic al-Hariri in Beirut’s Muhammad al-Amin mosque was as striking and deliberate in symbolism as the towering structure itself.
Last Friday’s assassination of the Hariri family’s senior advisor and one-time U.S. ambassador was by similar method: a massive car bomb detonated under his convoy as it drove through the heart of Beirut’s upscale downtown district. As if to purposefully underscore the parallels and frame the post-assassination narrative, it also occurred just a few hundred yards from the site where the billionaire Hariri was murdered in February 2005.
Just as after Hariri’s killing, the calculated recriminations of the March 14 coalition, led by the Future Movement, came fast and furious. Blame was laid squarely at the feet of Hezbollah. March 14 supporters were quick to point out that the crime took place less than three weeks before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL; the U.N.-established court tasked with investigating the Hariri assassination) was set to open proceedings against four accused Hezbollah members.
The shoddy STL investigation, relying heavily on telecommunications data wholly compromised by Israeli intelligence and their captured agents, has been previously discussed.
Did the masterminds of the Shatah assassination hope the Lebanese population would turn against Hezbollah, already facing strong rebuke for its intervention in Syria by March 14 politicians (despite that the latter have implicitly lent support to radical takfiri elements involved in the Syrian conflict since its earliest days)?
As with all political upheavals in Lebanon, the question that must be asked is, “who benefits?” Does Hezbollah? Although Shatah was a stalwart March 14 operative who decried Hezbollah’s role in Syria, he was nevertheless regarded as a relative moderate. But the increasingly virulent sectarian discourse of those on the fringes of this political alliance (and many at its center) and the cover they have extended to extremists like fugitive Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, cannot be ignored. Beirut after all, is still reeling from recent twin suicide car bombings at the Iranian embassy followed shortly thereafter by the assassination of Hezbollah senior commander Hassan al-Lakkis. On Thursday, innocent Lebanese civilians were again victims of a car bomb detonated in the Haret Hreik neighborhood of Beirut’s Shia-majority southern suburbs, known as the dahiyeh.
“Moderate” Sunni politicians like Shatah are viewed as expendable, for their killing only serves to polarize the wider Sunni community by inciting sectarian hatred and thereby marginalize more reasoned voices. Even Lebanon’s Grand Mufti was not spared as he was accosted after mourners’ passions were stoked by Sheikh Ahmad al-Omari, the cleric who delivered the sermon at the funeral of a young man also killed in the assassination. As Al-Akhbar reports, “Omari attacked Hezbollah, describing it as the ‘party of the devil.’ He called on the Shia to ‘disown’ Hezbollah ‘if they are true believers,’ and stressed the ‘patience of the persecuted Sunni sect is running out.’”
Again, does Hezbollah achieve any gain, political or otherwise, with Shatah’s demise?
The irony is that the inflammatory rhetoric and policies of March 14 parliamentary bloc members have led to the exponential growth of radical forces in the country. One only has to recall how former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Bahia Hariri and others insinuated the Lebanese Army was responsible for provoking Salafist cleric al-Assir’s armed forces to launch an attack against them this past summer in Sidon, killing 18.
Son of the late prime minister and Future Movement head Saad Hariri also did not waste any time in essentially blaming the victims themselves for Thursday’s attack: “They are at the same time victims of [Hezbollah’s] involvement in foreign wars, particularly in the Syrian war.”
The northern city of Tripoli and the Ain al-Hilwah Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon have provided extremist groups with safe refuge. Details have now emerged pointing to a possible link between those in the camp and recent events.
Just as in Iraq, moderate Sunni politicians have been singled out for assassination by takfiris who seek to exploit their spilled blood, provoke co-religionists into committing crimes against civilians and stir a simmering sectarian pot.
Who are the likely perpetrators behind Mohammed Shatah’s assassination and the dahiyeh bombing?
The very same ones the U.S. and Saudi-backed March 14 coalition have emboldened.
Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on Middle East affairs.
The assassination of former Lebanese Finance Minister Mohammed Shatah will open a dangerous chapter in Lebanon, a bit similar to the one that followed the assassination of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Shatah was no ordinary man in the region, and the attack occurred at a crucial moment in Lebanon and its neighborhood’s history. Here, escalated tensions and sedition will never let such a crime pass by without major repercussions. The killer knew it!
Hariri’s assassination in 2005 was a turning point for Hezbollah’s image in the Arab and Islamic world, and contributed to the Syrian army’s withdrawal from Lebanon. These events weren’t just a result of local demands. Former US President George W. Bush and his French counterpart Jacques Chirac were also involved.
The Sunni-Shia strife that ripped Iraq apart after the American-British invasion was further consolidated when Hezbollah, with its large Shia base, was accused of murdering the new symbol of modern Sunnism in the region: Rafik Hariri. Back then, political accusation preceded all real investigations on the ground.
Now, what to expect after Shatah’s assassination?
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was brief, while Future bloc leader Fouad Siniora elaborated, hinting that the Syrian regime planned the crime, and its Lebanese allies, mainly Hezbollah, carried it out. In the March 14 statement, Siniora echoed the calls that followed Hariri’s murder, urging to take Shatah’s assassination to the international level, something we expect to hear quite often in the coming weeks amid international pressure on Hezbollah and Lebanon.
Head of the National Struggle Bloc MP Walid Jumblatt was alone in his call for reason and moderation. He knows quite well that some are seeking to exploit the assassination to achieve bigger political gains. He also understands that this assassination is apt to take the country from sectarian sedition to the battlefield.
The Shatah assassination occurred while Lebanon was at a crossroads. The future government and the current presidency are now up for grabs amid political bickering between Hezbollah and March 14. But behind both parties is a larger and deeper conflict taking place in Syria.
The assassination ought to increase pressure on the formation of a Lebanese government and a formula for a presidential agreement. Previously hesitant, the international community is now expected to support these solutions as the death of Shatah and the other martyrs raised the alarm about a bloody year awaiting Lebanon.
Shatah’s murder also paves the way for further assassinations, clashes, and blasts. Obviously there is a plan to transform Lebanon into an arena for a regional and international conflict that has not been settled in Syria.
What if a Hezbollah leader or ally is killed in the coming days? Will we hear that it is a retaliation for the Shatah murder? Who will break this vicious cycle?
Israel may also find an opportunity to conduct a military operation. It is reported that Hezbollah’s incursion in Syria and the widening rift with its former Sunni base offers Israel the right opportunity to strike. In Lebanon, Israel may redeem what it couldn’t achieve in Iran. At least that’s what the Israelis believe.
The assassination put the Syrian regime and Hezbollah in a raging storm of accusations at a critical time. The world is heading toward the Geneva II conference and an historic understanding with Iran. The international tribunal investigating Hariri’s murder will soon begin its sessions.
Martyr Mohammed Shatah was no ordinary man. Neither was martyr Wissam al-Hassan. Shatah, a man with hefty economic and political baggage, was, just like security man Hassan, standing on a pivotal local, regional, and international intersection. With such assassinations, it is easy to point figures, but it is hard to support accusations with evidence as political exploitation comes in smoothly.
A dark period of major transformation is awaiting Lebanon, but unfortunately the fierce battle ahead won’t yield any winners. What if a fait accompli government was imposed on Hezbollah and its allies? How will Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah put his words “don’t mess with us” into action? Those messing with him this time will have an international cover far larger than the one they had before the assassination.
The latest deadly attack in Lebanon’s capital Beirut is yet another desperate attempt to destabilize not only that country, but the entire Middle East to precipitate all-out sectarian war.
The murder of senior Lebanese Sunni political figure, Mohamad Shatah, on Friday in a massive bomb blast that hit his motorcade as it drove through downtown Beirut was aimed at implicating the Shia Hezbollah and closely allied Syrian and Iranian governments.
Syria’s government of President Bashar al-Assad, along with Hezbollah and Iran, swiftly condemned the assassination of Shatah, who was formerly Lebanon’s finance minister between 2008 and 2011.
But the condemnations didn’t stop anti-Syria politicians within Lebanon and various Western media outlets from pointing the finger.
“Anti-Assad ex-minister killed in Beirut bomb,” was the headline carried by Reuters and Britain’s Daily Telegraph, among others.
This contrived innuendo betrays who the real perpetrators are.
Mohamad Shatah, a senior political adviser to Lebanese opposition leader Saad Hariri, was indeed a strident critic of Hezbollah and Syria’s Assad, accusing them of fuelling bloodshed in Syria and also sectarian tensions inside Lebanon. His political views were consistent with the narrative of the pro-Zionist Western media, as well as Saudi Arabia.
Shatah could therefore be considered an ally of the West, Saudi Arabia and the Zionist Israeli regime. But that very profile may have been what made him a prime target, not for Hezbollah or Syria, but for his so-called allies.
The day before his killing, Shatah had reiterated criticism of Hezbollah, claiming that the group was using Syria to consolidate its military strength in Lebanon.
Within minutes of Shatah’s murder, the Saudi-backed Lebanese opposition leader Saad Hariri implicated Hezbollah for the attack. “Shatah’s murderers are the same ones who assassinated former premier Rafik Hariri.” This was a reference to the bomb-blast killing of his father, Rafik, also a former prime minister, in 2005.
A United Nations-backed Lebanese tribunal has indicted five members of Hezbollah for that 2005 murder. The trial is set to open in the coming weeks in a Hague court. For the past eight years Hariri’s group have accused Hezbollah as well as Syrian intelligence over that assassination, without the accusations gaining much credibility.
Both Hezbollah and Syria have strenuously denied any involvement, saying that there is no evidence, and that the tribunal is politically driven. Hence, they have refused to cooperate with the forthcoming trial.
That is why Saad Hariri said of the latest killing: “The accused… are the same ones who are running away from international justice.”
Shatah’s assassination this week comes at a sensitive time, which strongly suggests who the real perpetrators might be.
First, the atrocity serves to re-ignite the accusations against Hezbollah, and its regional allies, in the murder of Rafik Hariri just when the case is being re-opened in an international court.
Secondly, there is the forthcoming Geneva II political talks organized to find a peaceful solution to the nearly three-year Syrian crisis. If Hezbollah, and by extension Syria and Iran, can be linked by sensational media claims of involvement in the murder of high-profile Lebanese politicians, then that would have a damaging impact on the Assad government during the Geneva negotiations.
Thirdly, and this is more to the point of who are the likely perpetrators, the murder of Mohamad Shatah comes at a time of mounting sectarian tensions and violence across the region. Lebanon has witnessed a wave of deadly bomb attacks and assassinations in recent months, which have mainly targeted Shia areas of Beirut.
Earlier this month, a senior Hezbollah commander was shot dead. And at the end of last month, a twin suicide bomb attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed 29, including Iran’s cultural attaché, Ebrahim Ansari. Back in August, a bomb outside a Sunni mosque in Sidon reportedly butchered 40 people.
This violence replicates the pattern of sectarian bloodshed unleashed in neighboring Syria and Iraq. There is ample evidence to show that that violence is being systematically fuelled by Saudi Arabia, working in collusion with Israeli and Western intelligence.
Israel in particular has a long track record of sabotaging Lebanon from within, having invaded that country in 1978, 2000 and 2006. There is also evidence that its agents were the real authors of the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005.
Lebanon is particularly vulnerable to sectarian strife. The country’s communal wounds are still raw from the 15-year-old civil war between its Sunni, Shia, Christian and Druze communities, which ended in 1990. There have been renewed sectarian clashes between Sunni and Shia/Alawite groups in Sidon, Tripoli and several other towns over the past year. Saudi-backed Sunni clerics have been prominent in agitating sharper tensions in Lebanon.
This pattern of sectarian destabilization within Lebanon and across the Middle East by external forces is consistent with the latest murder of Mohamad Shatah in Beirut. The massive blast is believed to have come from a 50-60 kg bomb wired in a booby-trapped car. Wreckage was scattered 100 meters away and some 40 other cars were damaged, some of them upended. This was a professional hit with a devastating message.
In the grand nefarious scheme of geopolitics it matters little that Shatah was a prominent Sunni figure who was an ardent critic of Hezbollah and Syria. Indeed, from the viewpoint of the agents of subversion and destabilization, Shatah’s political and religious affiliation would have made him a prime target for their purpose of trying to explode sectarian war.
The heinous role played by Saudi, Israeli and Western intelligence in inflicting untold suffering on civilians across the Middle East, whether Shia, Sunni or Christian, means that their capability of using the dirtiest tricks knows no limits. The murder of Mohamad Shatah would be viewed by these dark forces as merely an expendable sacrifice if that means achieving the bigger aim of inciting all-out sectarian war in Lebanon; and engulfing the entire region in internecine flames.
The powers that gain from this atrocity are those that sow division and thrive on conflict in order to shore up their illegitimate hegemony over the region and over the mass of its ordinary, decent people.
A group of Syrian rebels have been holding Lebanese civilians hostage for nearly seven months. The kidnappers keep issuing new demands, claiming they have captured “subversives from the Lebanese Hezbollah party.”
The hostages’ relatives deny the charges, saying those captured are elderly and poor, have families and are generally apolitical. They also expressed frustration at how Western mass-media has only aired the kidnappers’ side of the story.
During this seven-month period, the hostages were allegedly ‘killed by Assad’s bombs,’ but then miraculously ‘rose from the dead.’ The conditions of their release have been continually changing: First, the kidnappers turned down a $50 million ransom; they then demanded the families demonstrate against Hezbollah, and asked Hezbollah chief Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah to apologize to the Syrian people; finally, they suggested bartering their hostages for an Al-Qaeda leader.
But at the heart of this cloak-and-dagger saga are clues to how the Syrian captors managed to demand a ransom of $50 million after proclaiming Ankhar Kochneva, a Ukrainian-Russian journalist of Palestinian descent, to be a spy for three different countries simultaneously.
A bargain bus tour hijacked
On May 22, 2012, a group of Lebanese pilgrims on a bus were returning to Beirut from Mashhad, a city in northeastern Iran. Syria was relatively peaceful at the time. Some of the passengers were accompanied by their wives and daughters; one young man was chaperoning his elderly aunt.
In Aleppo province, their bus was stopped by a group of Syrian rebels who then abducted the passengers, claiming they were Hezbollah subversives who had illegally crossed the Syrian border.
The following passengers of the bus remain in captivity:
Ali Skheb, 63: Physically impaired, suffers from heart failure.
Jamil Saleh, 65: Spent the last 30 years working for Saad Hariri, known to be a major supporter of the Syrian rebels. Suffers from epilepsy and is prone to fainting fits. Recently underwent surgery for a spinal disc herniation.
Ali Abbas, 30: Owner of a hookah shop, who supports both himself and his younger brother. The brothers are parentless as well as homeless, and use their shop as living quarters. Ali suffers from epilepsy.
Hassan Arzune, 56: A street vendor who peddles sweets for Ramadan and owns a shop with a floor area of 1.5 sq. meters.
Hassan Hammud, 45: Painter and floor waxer, the proud owner of an antique stone-floor polisher that consists of an iron frame and a water tank. The kidnappers believe Hassan to be a specially trained sabotage and demolitions expert.
Muhammad Monzer, 22: Gas station attendant who borrowed money for the trip in order to accompany an elderly aunt, who dreamed of taking a pilgrimage.
Abbas Shuyab, 41: Pilgrimage broker who organizes bus tours to Iraq and Iran.
Abbas Hammod, 60: Retired Lebanese Army soldier, suffers from neurological disorders.
Ali Termos, 50: Works as a salesman in a small grocery shop.
It is possible the Syrian opposition is unable to distinguish either insurgents or rank-and-file Hezbollah party activists just from their outward appearances. However, few in Lebanon believes that the hostages are members of Hezbollah.
The kidnappers did their best to comply with the rules of Islam: They immediately released all the women – including wives, daughters and the aunt – and allowed those abducted to pray and fast freely.
The captors went as far as agreeing to a meeting between the hostages and two of their family members, who were allowed to make a video on how well the kidnappers were treating the abductees. In the footage, they were shown to be wearing casual clothes and sitting on sofas in broad daylight. They even released two hostages who appeared to be in bad health.
During the first month they ate canned tuna, boiled eggs on the second and chickpeas on the third. Later, their diet slightly improved.
The remaining captives are now confined a room with no windows.
Towards the end of Ramadan, online sources reported that Oqab Saqr, a Lebanese MP from the Hariri bloc, had allegedly received $50 million from Saudi Arabia to pay as ransom for the hostages. Mona Termos, the wife of one of the prisoners, went to the Saudi embassy to find out if the rumors were true.
“On that very day Abbas Nasr, an Al Jazeera correspondent, called me only to yell that I was to blame for disrupting a mission to release the prisoners,” Termos said. “Later, he came and said that I must go live on air to disprove that news. But I said it is up to the ambassador to do it.”
Three days later, the events took a new turn: “We were told that the location had been bombed, leaving four people dead, including my husband! Then the Lebanese Foreign Ministry started an inquiry, and the families took to the streets – and that’s when that information was refuted. Did they rise from the dead?” she said.
And two days after that, the kidnappers’ leader Abu Ibrahim confirmed to NewTV channel that he had been offered the $50 million. “Yes, they did offer $50 million but I refused to take it. It is a matter of principle rather than money,” NewTV quoted him as saying.
Ibrahim now communicates regularly with the media, which interviews him through Skype and the telephone, and even dispatches film crews from New York to record his statements.
Ibrahim’s first demand was for the release of the Lebanese hostages in exchange for Hussein Harmoush, an army defector and one of the founders of the rebel Free Syrian Army. He then demanded that Hezbollah chief Nasrallah apologize to the Syrian people and publicly support the rebels. Currently, there is no evidence suggesting that the pilgrims are connected to Hezbollah.
Ibrahim then called on the families to rally against Hezbollah in front of Beirut’s Syrian and Iranian embassies. The families fulfilled the demand, rallying at the embassies and writing letters to ambassadors. The Iranian embassy’s workers told them that 48 Iranian pilgrims were being held in a similar situation: They were abducted by Syrian rebels under the pretext that they were members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards corps.
Nasrallah then addressed Lebanon, expressing support for the Syrian people and asking them to demonstrate what shape that support should take.
Those kidnapped are occasionally allowed to call their families with a cell phone that has a Turkish number. Those who were freed from captivity and their visitors claim that the building where hostages are held is within sight of the Turkish border.
“The Turkish authorities could’ve easily found them. But they insist that they’ve no idea where the hostages are held. How do journalists find them then? They all get there across the Turkish border,” the relatives said.
A week ago, Ibrahim made a new demand to the relatives, asking them to rally to free both Hussein Harmoush and Syrian opposition member Tal al-Mallohi.
The families of the hostages expressed frustration at Ibrahim’s apparent hypocrisy in his attempts to free political prisoners. “Nobody should be imprisoned for his or her views, the more so women. Abu Ibrahim, you are committing the same deeds you say yourself you are against! How can I trust the Syrian revolution if you deprive innocent people of their freedom?” the pilgrims’ wives said. Western media have yet to report on their remarks.
NYT journalists traveled to Syria to investigate the hostage-taking and managed to make their way to Ibrahim, but did not contact the captives’ wives and daughters in Beirut. One of the journalists did eventually call the family of the hostages – not to interview them, but to inform them about a video published on the newspaper’s website containing new conditions for the hostages’ release. The relatives were told that the captors are now demanding that 200 political prisoners, including an Al-Qaeda leader from Jordan, be released from Lebanon’s prisons.
“Through a US newspaper they are demanding a release of an Al-Qaeda leader? And to release political prisoners in the Lebanon? But there are none in Lebanon!” the hostages’ family members said. “We are free to say whatever we want, and nobody will pay any attention to that. There are criminals, drug dealers, but no political prisoners. Everybody knows that.”
Abu Ibrahim has promised to clarify the demands, and to fax the names of the two prisoners that will be transferred to Lebanese authorities.
That message has yet to arrive.