Pilgrims' Families Threaten to Rally near Embassies Backing Syria Opposition

The families of the nine Lebanese pilgrims held in Syria's Aazaz region held a sit-in on Thursday in front of the French Embassy in Beirut to pressure France to exert efforts to release the captives.

They said in a statement: “We will escalate our actions and stage sit-ins in front of the embassies of all countries that support the Syrian opposition.”

They explained that they shifted their sit-in from in front of the Turkish Airlines offices in downtown Beirut to the French Embassy out of respect of the funeral of late caricaturist Pierre Sadek.

The funeral is expected to be held at St. Georges Church that is located in downtown Beirut near the Turkish Airlines offices.

The statement added: “France is among the countries that support the Syrian opposition and it boasts about respecting human and animal rights, which is what we are seeking to remind the French ambassador of.”

“The French government's actions do not reflect its respect for human rights and France, as well as Turkey, is responsible for the ongoing abduction of the pilgrims through its support to the opposition,” it said.

They added that they will stage a sit-in and erect tents in front of the Turkish Embassy, but did not disclose a date for their action.

On Wednesday, caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour had held talks with Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon Inan Ozyildiz to discuss the abduction, reported the Central News Agency.

The minister said after the meeting: “We do not hold Turkey responsible for the kidnapping, but we know that it plays a major role in backing the armed Syrian opposition.”

Lebanon is keen on its “solid” ties with Turkey and it does not want them to deteriorate over the failure to release the pilgrims, he told the ambassador.

Earlier this month, the relatives of the nine men vowed to target Turkish interests in Lebanon, calling on the citizens to boycott all Turkish products.

They threatened to protest near Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport and to halt inbound and outbound flights.

Eleven pilgrims were kidnapped in May 2012 in northern Syria's Aleppo province as they returned by land from a pilgrimage in Iran. Two of them were released in August and September.

They were later taken to the Aleppo town of Aazaz.

The kidnapping was claimed by a man who identified himself as Abu Ibrahim and says he is a member of the rebel Free Syrian Army, but the opposition group denies any involvement in the abductions.

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