Two Turkish pilots held hostage in Lebanon and nine Lebanese pilgrims abducted in Syria returned home Saturday night, part of an ambitious three-way deal cutting across the Syrian civil war.
The Shiite pilgrims, some in dress shirts and others in suit jackets, embraced well-wishers at Beirut’s international airport. Meanwhile, a plane carrying the two freed Turkish Airlines pilots landed in Istanbul, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials greeted them.
The double release came as part of a negotiated hostage deal that includes the freeing of dozens of women held in Syrian government jails. It wasn’t immediately clear whether any of the women had been released.
Lebanese, Turkish and Syrian officials declined to provide more details of the complicated multilateral exchange. The deal appeared to have been mediated mostly by Qatar, which has supported Syrian rebels against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Palestinian officials also mediated.
The nine Shiite pilgrims were kidnapped in May 2012 while on their way from Iran to Lebanon. The Turkish Airlines pilots had been held since they were kidnapped in Lebanon in August by Shiites hoping to pressure Turkey to help free the pilgrims.
— Associated Press
Syrian rebels blew up an army checkpoint outside Damascus on Saturday, and more than 30 combatants from both sides died in the blast and ensuing clashes, a monitoring group said.
The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 15 rebels and at least 16 soldiers were killed.
Elsewhere near the capital, Syrian forces tried to storm the suburb of Moadamiya, which the army has blockaded for months, causing a spate of deaths from hunger and malnutrition.
The Britain-based Observatory said the checkpoint explosion, near Mleiha and Jaramana, was detonated by a suicide bomber from the al Qaeda-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra.
Expelled Roma girl can return to France, alone: Under fire from the far left and members of his Socialist Party, French President François Hollande said that a 15-year-old girl who was detained in front of her classmates and expelled as an illegal immigrant can return to France but that the rest of the family cannot come with her. Leonarda Dibrani, however, said she would not return without her family, who are Roma, or Gypsies.
Hamas leader calls for a renewed uprising against Israel: Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, in a speech in Gaza City, urged all Palestinian factions to oppose the recently restarted peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and take up “armed resistance.” Israel, which the Islamist group does not recognize, is negotiating with the West Bank government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel recently discovered a pair of tunnels from Gaza that it says were intended to facilitate attacks.
At least 16 killed in suicide blast in Somali cafe: A suicide bomber killed at least 16 people in an attack on a cafe in a Somali town close to the Ethiopian border that is frequented by local and foreign soldiers fighting al-Qaeda-linked rebels. The Islamist militant group al-Shabab said it had carried out the bombing in the town of Beledweyne, targeting troops participating in an African Union peacekeeping force.
Italian protesters take aim at Finance Ministry: Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in Rome against cuts to welfare programs and a shortage of low-income housing. Some hooded demonstrators who infiltrated a mostly peaceful protest threw smoke bombs, eggs and bottles at the Finance Ministry. More than 4,000 riot police were dispatched to maintain order, and 11 people were detained.
Skydivers’ plane crashes in Belgium, killing 11: A plane carrying parachutists for a skydiving trip crashed in southern Belgium, killing all 11 people aboard, officials said. Minutes after the aircraft took off from a small airfield near the city of Namur, witnesses saw part of a wing break off, sending the plane into a spiraling nose dive.
Argentine train crashes into station, again: An Argentine commuter train slammed into the end of the line Saturday at the same station in Buenos Aires where 52 people were killed in a similar crash last year. There was no immediate report of deaths, but at least 80 people were injured.
— From news services