ICRC says working on contact with Lebanese hostages

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 02, 2012 7:46 AM
ICRC says working on contact with Lebanese hostages

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday it was ready to help establish contact between Lebanese Shi'ite pilgrims taken hostage in Syria and their families.

The ICRC said it had been approached by the families of the hostages, kidnapped in May by Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

The kidnappers have accused some of the 11 hostages, who were taken as they crossed into Syria from Turkey, of helping to put down their uprising against Assad. They had previously said talks for the men's release would not start until they received an apology from Hezbollah leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

"The ICRC for one would act only on direct request of the families," the head of the ICRC delegation in Lebanon, Jurg Montani, told Reuters.

"And we have indeed been approached by the families of the pilgrims and we are working with the delegation in Damascus to work on this file to try to ascertain where they are and to try to re-establish contact between the pilgrims and their families."

Montani said the international body was ready to act as a facilitator for their return.

"Should whoever is holding the 11 pilgrims decide to ask the ICRC to facilitate the return of the pilgrims, we would of course be ready to play our role there," he said.

Hezbollah has remained a staunch supporter of Assad who is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. The revolt against him has mostly been led by Syria's Sunni Muslim majority.

The men appeared in a video in June and said they were in good health and being treated well. The rebels said they would release the men when their country had established a new "civil state", but left room for negotiations.

(Reporting by Yara Bayoumy, editing by Diana Abdallah)