False hopes, stretched nerves
Siham Mahmoud has been waiting for two days to know if her husband is still alive or not. Mahmoud’s husband, Awad Ibrahim, is one of the 11 Lebanese Shia pilgrims who were kidnapped in Aleppo four days ago by an unknown group. She says she has no news about Ibrahim other than what she has been seeing on the news. “What we have been seeing on television is exactly what the middle men between us[Hezbollah leader] Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, [Amal leader] Nabih Berri and the governmenthave been telling us. No clear news,” she told NOW Lebanon.
Last night Mahmoud was in the crowd at the Beirut International Airport to wait for Ibrahim, as she and other family members had seen on the news that their relatives had been released and handed over to the Turkish authorities. They cheered when they heard the Lebanese government announce the captives’ release and when they found out that former PM Saad Hariri had sent one of his private jets to take the newly released men from Adana to Beirut.
But Hariri’s plane never took off from Adana, and the kidnapped pilgrims never reached home. The reason why their relatives are not back is still unclear for the families.
The crowd at the Beirut International Airport, together with the ministers and politicians who were ready to welcome the kidnapped, had to go home. A day later, there is still no clear information about what went wrong with the release, and no government officials are making any statements. Some news programs quoted “official sources” saying that the captives were still with the kidnappers, others quoted Turkish officials saying they had no information, and others said that the Syrian army’s shelling had made it impossible for the pilgrims to be handed to the Turkish authorities.
The only real information came from the opposition Free Syrian Army. “Contacts with the rebel group, which is present in Aazaz in Aleppo, has been interrupted since 8 p.m. on Friday,” FSA spokesperson Khaled Youssef al-Hammoud told Al-Jadeed earlier today. “The Syrian regime is preventing us from acting in order to resolve this issue… They shelled the team that we sent to conduct negotiations with the abductors.”
Hezbollah and Amal Movement leaders made calls for the people in Beirut’s southern suburbs to keep calm and wait till the morning because “It is just a matter of delay.” There had been tire-burning protests upon the news that the pilgrims had first been kidnapped, and they feared more strife.
Mohammad, a 24-year-old from Hay al-Sillom, told NOW Lebanon that “There are many people in this region angry and ready to cause trouble, but Hezbollah is making sure they don’t take to the streets.” He also said that he heard of Syrian nationals being attacked overnight in nearby neighborhood of Shiyyeh. “People, like me, think that what happened to the pilgrims is a game. I think they will release them eventually. People hope for it here,” he said. “What happened last night was playing with people’s patience and nerves. It has always been like this in Lebanon. Nothing will ever change.
Ibrahim, a 25-year-old Hezbollah supporter in Haret Hreik, also said the kidnapping was a game. “I think the revolutionaries kidnapped them to make some sort of exchange. But people also talk about the high probability that they are already dead,” he said. “But all these lies circulating might lead to trouble. In Haret Hreik there are many Syrians. I haven’t seen anybody assaulted, but I’ve heard that Syrians were beaten up around Dahyieh,” he said.
“What is funny is that the government has no clue about what is happening, but they still make statements. This sectarian strife option is always there in this country. We all follow our sect blindly. They trick us, they laugh at us and we still follow them,” he said.
Al-Balad analyst Ali al-Amin agrees politicians’ reckless statements have caused a great deal of tension. “The statements of Hariri and the cabinet ministers, and the information coming from Turkey were so contradictory. I wonder if there was some sort of agreement and at some point something went wrong with the deal,” he told NOW. “The politicians in Lebanon fell into a trap of bidding their efforts. Everyone was showing off what they had done for the release,” he said. “Right now each sect takes care of its people. The cabinet has no role in this story. Hezbollah and the Amal Movement are the ones negotiating for the kidnapped, just as Future would negotiate for the Sunnis, or Kataeb and the Lebanese Forces for the Christians,” he said.
“The problem this time is not in Lebanon. The problem is either with the Syrians or with the Turks, but the fragility of the situation puts Lebanon at risk. The people are tense, and the situation is fragile,” Amin said. In Dahiyeh, the relatives of the 11 hostages gathered at a religious pilgrimage office that had taken them on the trip. Their patience was almost gone, Mahmoud told NOW. Her anger was directed at the Turkish government. “We are giving them two or three hours and then all the people who were there at the airport last night will march to the Turkish Embassy to ask them to state something clear. We need to know if our relatives are still alive. We want a clear statement from the Turkish cabinet. If not, we’re going to the Turkish Embassy. God knows what happens next,” she said.