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‘The story is over’: Kidnapped Lebanese pilgrims in Syria freed after 1.5 years

‘The story is over’: Kidnapped Lebanese pilgrims in Syria freed after 1.5 years
Nine Shiite Lebanese pilgrims in Syria have finally been freed after being held hostage for nearly a year and a half. The release was reportedly part of a negotiated deal which has also led to the release of two Turkish pilots being held in Lebanon.

A group of Syrian rebels were holding the Lebanese civilians hostage since May 2012. The kidnappers kept issuing new demands, claiming they had captured “subversives from the Lebanese Hezbollah party.”

The pilgrims were on a bus returning to Lebanon from Iran. In Aleppo province, their bus was stopped by a group of Syrian rebels who then abducted the passengers. 

Two of the hostages were later released, but the other nine remained in custody. 

The kidnapping exacerbated regional tensions, leading to the kidnapping of two Turkish Airlines pilots in Beirut, Lebanon.

The pilots were identified as Murat Akpinar and Murat Agca. The two men had been taken hostage by the Zuwaar al-Imam Rida group, which claimed responsibility, according to Lebanon's state news agency. Both were handed over to Lebanese security officials on Saturday, according to Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency.

Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel confirmed this Friday that nine Lebanese hostages "are now in Turkish territories," AP  reported. "The story is over," Reuters had quoted him as saying. “In the next 24 hours, they will be with us [in Lebanon]." He had additionally expressed his wish that he would see the two pilots released, saying that it "is all part of one deal."

The pilots' release was preceded by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stating  that the the men could be freed "within hours or days.”

Details of the negotiation process and who ran it remain unclear.However, Turkey is recognized as holding a considerable degree of influence over Syrian rebels.