Turkey has closed its cultural center and commercial office in Beirut after the kidnap of two Turkish Airlines pilots, Ankara’s ambassador to Lebanon told AFP on Monday.
The two pilots were kidnapped on Friday by a group demanding Turkey use its influence with Syria’s rebels, who it backs, to secure the release of nine Lebanese Shiites kidnapped in Syria in May 2012.
“As a safety measure, the Turkish cultural center and commercial office in Beirut have suspended their activities,” ambassador Inan Ozyildiz said.
He also said “Turkish Airlines’ offices have been operating from Beirut International Airport” instead of at their downtown Beirut facility.
After the kidnapping on Friday, Turkey’s foreign ministry urged citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon and to leave the country if they were already there.
But Ozyildiz welcomed “measures taken by the Lebanese security services to protect Turkish interests” in the Lebanese capital.
He reiterated that his country “was not involved in the Lebanese (Shiite) pilgrims’ kidnapping” in Azaz, northern Syria.
A previously unknown group calling itself Zuwwar Imam al-Rida claimed the kidnapping of the two pilots.
It said Turkey was “directly responsible” for the nine Lebanese who went missing in Syria.
The families of the nine Lebanese pilgrims, who were returning from a trip to Iran when they were kidnapped in Syria last year, have called repeatedly for the release of their relatives.
They accuse Turkey of not doing enough to win the release of their relatives.
The two pilots were kidnapped in a majority Shiite area of Beirut, controlled mainly by powerful Lebanese movement Hezbollah, a close ally of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Since Friday, Hezbollah’s Lebanese critics have repeatedly accused the Shiite group of covering up for the kidnapping of the two pilots.