In a rare show of co-operation nine Lebanese pilgrims who were abducted in Syria have been released in exchange for two Turkish pilots held hostage in Lebanon on Saturday night.
The nine Lebanese had been held by Syrian rebels for 17 months while the Turkish pilots had been taken just outside Beirut International Airport in August.
The pilots were taken in an attempt to pressure Turkey to use its influence with the Syrian rebels to secure the release of the nine Shia pilgrims. It was a gambit that seems to have paid off.
The nine Shia pilgrims were greeted by family and friends as well as cabinet ministers and other senior officials from across the Lebanese political community.
“It’s a wedding for us, it’s a celebration,” Marwan Charbel, Lebanese Interior Minister, said. The two Turkish pilots were greeted on their return home by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and other officials.
The deal appears to have been brokered when Lebanese General Abbas Ibrahim travelled to Damascus on Friday for discussions. General Ibrahim is responsible for Lebanon’s General Security.
General Ibrahim returned to Beirut on the same plane as the freed Shia hostages, who were returned to their homes in the southern Suburbs of Beirut to celebrations.
The kidnapping of the two pilots was enough to raise Turkish concerns about the effects Syria’s Civil War was having on Lebanon. It prompted a warning for all Turkish citizens to leave Lebanon for their own safety. Details of the agreement that lead to the exchange are unclear however it is one of the more promising deals that has come out of the three year old Syrian Civil War, an end to which is not yet in sight.