Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel pledged on Saturday that his government would make “exceptional efforts” to ensure the release of two Turkish pilots kidnapped in Beirut a day earlier, state media said.
Speaking after a meeting with Turkey’s ambassador to Beirut, Inan Ozyildiz, he also 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.
“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.
The two Turkish Airlines pilots were kidnapped in the early hours of Friday on the Beirut airport road as they travelled on a bus with their crew to a hotel.
A previously unknown group calling itself Zuwwar Imam Ali al-Rida claimed the kidnapping, saying it was intended to put pressure on the abductors of nine Lebanese pilgrims who went missing in Syria in May 2012.
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 Charbel said Lebanon would do everything possible to keep Turkish citizens safe.
“We will ensure the protection of Turks and everyone else in Lebanon,” he said.
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 their release of their relatives.
They accuse Ankara, which backs the Syrian rebels, of failing to use its influence to secure their release.
Earlier this year, a group of the relatives protested outside Turkish offices in Beirut, including the Turkish Airlines office.
A self-identified member of the rebel Free Syrian Army claimed the kidnap of the Lebanese pilgrims, but the FSA said it had no involvement in the abduction.