May 22, 2012 09:50 PMThe Daily Star
BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri condemned Tuesday the recent kidnapping in Syria of a group of Lebanese men returning from a pilgrimage in Iraq and called for their immediate release.
“We condemn the kidnapping of our Lebanese brothers in Syria, regardless of the party behind the kidnapping, and we call for their immediate release,” Hariri said, according to a statement from his office.
“The kidnappers should know that the Lebanese people are united in this issue and we deal with it as a Lebanese national cause that doesn’t afford any interpretation or bargaining,” Hariri said.
A Lebanese security source said at least 16 Lebanese men returning from a pilgrimage in Iraq were kidnapped by rebels in Allepo, northern Syria. The rebels appear to have abducted the men to exchange them for Syrians imprisoned in Lebanon, the source added.
Upon hearing the news, angry relatives took to the streets of the southern suburb of Beirut where most of the kidnapped live and blocked several roads by burning tires.
The roads soon reopened after Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah called for calm and said contacts were ongoing to secure the release of the abducted men.
Nasrallah’s comments came minutes before Reuters agency, quoting a Syrian opposition member, reported that Syrian forces had launched raids with tanks and other armored vehicles in an area of northern Aleppo province near the place where Lebanese Shiite pilgrims were kidnapped.
Hariri also voiced solidarity with the family and relatives of the abducted men.
“We express our full solidarity with the families of the kidnapped, whom we consider as members of our family,” Hariri said.
The Future Movement leader also contacted Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to discuss the incident.
During the call, “Hariri reiterated his strong condemnation of the abduction, regardless of the party behind it, and expressed his full solidarity with their families, stressing the necessity of exerting all efforts and working together to free them and make sure they return safely to their families and country.”