Greeted by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, two Turkish airline pilots have arrived in Istanbul, two months after being kidnapped in Lebanon.
They were abducted to put pressure on Turkey to intervene with Syrian rebels holding a group of Lebanese hostages. The pilots’ kidnappers were said to be from the family of one of the Lebanese captives.
The pair have now been freed as part of a complex exchange deal.
“We were not treated badly…We were never treated brutally,” said freed pilot Murat Akpinar. “We were not exposed to verbal or physical violence. If that had been the case, you can be sure that we would not have arrived here.”
In Beirut, the nine Lebanese Shi’ite hostages were also celebrating their freedom as part of the deal.
Seized in May last year and said to be pilgrims returning from Iran, their families deny kidnappers’ claims that the hostages belonged to Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside President Assad’s forces.
“I can’t say anything but thank God and I thank everybody who worked for the release of myself and my comrades,” said one of the group, Rabih Saleh,
Qatar, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey reportedly mediated in a deal that illustrates the complexity of the Syrian conflict. The accord is also said to involve a group of female prisoners being freed by Syria’s government.