Syrian rebels on Saturday freed one of the 11 Lebanese Shia pilgrims they have been holding for three months, in a move aiming to ease cross-border tensions after a wave of abductions of Syrian citizens in Lebanon.
The release came a week after Lebanese tribesmen kidnapped two Turks and more than 20 Syrians to force the rebels to release Lebanese citizen Hassane al-Mikdad, who the rebels captured near the Syrian capital of Damascus and accused of being a member of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group. The al-Mikdad clan, which later released most of the Syrians it was holding except for four, is a powerful Shia Muslim family in Lebanon.
The Shia pilgrims were abducted on May 22, 2012 after crossing into Syria from Turkey on their way to Lebanon. A previously unheard of group calling itself “Syrian Rebels in Aleppo” claimed responsibility.
The group demanded that the Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, apologise for his comments in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Mr. Nasrallah, an ally of Mr. Assad’s regime, has said the abduction would not change his group’s stance.
Mohammed Nour, a rebel spokesman in the Syrian northern town of Azaz, said in a statement read on TV that the release was in response to a request by Lebanon’s Association of Muslim Scholars and an adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr. Nour did not say what they will do with the remaining 10 pilgrims but repeated his call for Hezbollah to “specify their stance regarding the Syrian people and revolution.”
In Syria, activists reported clashes between rebels and government troops and well as shelling in different areas including the northern province of Aleppo, the district of Idlib, the eastern region of Deir el-Zour and Daraa in the south. The activists also reported violence in some suburbs of the capital, Damascus, including Daraya which government troops entered on Thursday.