Lebanon bolsters security for Turkish nationals after pilots kidnapped

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Lebanon on Saturday bolstered efforts to ensure the safety of tourists in the country, and in particular Turkish nationals, following the abduction of two Turkish Airline pilots a day earlier.

A security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Star Lebanon that a list of all Turkish tourists in the country at present was circulated to security and concerned agencies.

The move was carried out as a precautionary measure, the source added.

“In a further indication of the boosted security, Lebanese security forces accompanied a bus carrying Turkish tourists visiting the east Lebanon towns of Zahle and Baalbek,” the newspaper reported, citing the security source.

Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel pledged on Saturday that his government would make “exceptional efforts” to ensure the release of the two Turkish pilots, state media said.

Speaking after a meeting with Turkey’s ambassador to Beirut, Charbel promised that Lebanon would make every effort to protect Turkish citizens in the country.

“The Lebanese state is making exceptional efforts to free them. The security services are sparing no effort,” Lebanon’s National News Agency quoted Charbel as saying, according to AFP news agency,

“We are continuing the investigation to find the two Turks... Lebanon is against any kidnap and the state is doing everything in its power to free them,” he added.

Turkey has urged its citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon and those already in the country have been advised to leave if they can.

"Given the current situation it is vital that our citizens avoid all travel to Lebanon," a foreign ministry online statement said on Saturday.

"We suggest that citizens who are still in Lebanon return to Turkey if they can, or if they have to remain, to take all measures to ensure their personal safety and be vigilant," the statement added.

The statement also expressed the foreign ministry's expectation for the Lebanese government to take "all necessary measures" to ensure the safety of Turkish citizens in the country.

On Friday, a Lebanese Shiite militia ambushed a bus carrying a Turkish Airlines pilot and his assistant in Beirut as they left the airport early morning on Friday.

Speaking to Turkish television, Ankara’s ambassador to Beirut, Inan Ozyildiz, said “the case is being followed closely” and that he was working with “Lebanese forces to free the two pilots.”

Lebanese media reported that a group named Zouar Imam Reza claimed responsibility for the abduction and offered their release in exchange for nine Lebanese Shi’ite Muslims kidnapped near the Turkish-Syrian border last year.

“We announce that the Turkish captain ...and his assistant are our guests until our brothers... who were abducted in Azaz are released,” the statement said, according to a Lebanese television station and the National News Agency.

The alleged group said it holds Turkish authorities for the fate of the Lebanese Shiites, who were among a group of 11 men abducted in May last year by Syrian Sunni Muslim rebels in the northern town of Azaz, close to Turkey.

(With AFP)

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