More police at Qatari embassy in Lebanon in anticipation of protest

7 Aug 2012 17:21

Anti-riot police deployed Tuesday outside the Qatari embassy in Beirut ahead of a planned protest by the families and supporters of 11 Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria three months ago.

About 20 policemen were seen outside the embassy in Ain al-Tineh, not far from the residence of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Around 11 in the morning, photographers and television crews on the scene were told that the hostages’ families had changed their minds and decided to protest outside the Turkish embassy in Rabieh, north of Beirut.

Turkey and Qatar have aligned themselves with the Syrian opposition. Both countries have attempted to mediate the hostages’ release, but to no avail.

President Sleiman has said that he is pursuing contacts with the Turks and Qataris in order to secure the hostages' release.

The hostages’ families blocked the Beirut airport highway Monday evening – using cars and motorcycles rather than burning tires – in an effort to pressure the government to secure the captives’ release.

Sheikh Abbas Zogheib, tasked by the Higher Shiite Islamic Council with following up on the hostage issue, warned Monday of escalatory moves by the hostages’ families if their loved ones were not released soon.

“We are doing our best to keep the [hostages’] families patient. But if no results are achieved soon with regard to securing the release of the hostages, the families will resort to escalatory moves,” he said.

The hostages, all Shiites, were kidnapped on May 22 after crossing into Syria from Turkey. They were on their way back to Lebanon following a pilgrimage to Shiite holy sites in Iran.

A previously unknown group calling itself "Syrian Rebels in Aleppo" claimed responsibility for the abduction, saying five of the hostages were members of Hezbollah. Hezbollah and their families deny the claim.

The group demanded that Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah apologize for comments he had made in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Nasrallah, a staunch ally of Assad, said the abduction would not change Hezbollah’s stance on the events in Syria.

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