BEIRUT, Lebanon — Turkey on Saturday secured the release of one of 11 Shiite Lebanese hostages held for three months by Syrian rebels, a move that underlined Ankara's growing influence in the Arab world.
Hussein Ali Omar, 60, crossed into Turkey after his release and later arrived in Beirut, the Lebanese capital, aboard a private Turkish jet.
"Our treatment (by the Syrian captors) was excellent and the Lebanese (hostages) are well," said Omar.
He was dressed in a white shirt and a red tie bearing an image of the Turkish flag that he said he was wearing "in recognition of Turkey's efforts to free me."
In a sign that a crisis in Lebanon might be subsiding, a Shiite family that had abducted dozens of Syrians inside Lebanon said Saturday that it would let all but a few of the captives go, the New York Times reported. Maher al Mikdad, the spokesman for the family that kidnapped more than 30 Syrians in retaliation for the abduction of a relative this month in Syria, told reporters that his family let most of the captives go "as a good-will gesture."
He said that in order to press for the release of his relative, Hassan al-Mikdad, the Mikdad clan would hold on to four Syrians who he said are members of the Free Syrian Army, the main group of rebel fighters in Syria, and a Turkish man who was also kidnapped.
It was not clear if the releases were connected, but they brought some calm after several days of fears that the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad would continue to spill over into and escalate in Lebanon.
In Syria, activists reported clashes between rebels and government troops as well as shelling in different areas, including the northern province of Aleppo, the district of Idlib, the eastern region of Deir el-Zour and Daraa in the south.
The activists also reported violence in suburbs of the capital, Damascus, including Daraya, which government troops stormed on Thursday. Activists say at least 20,000 people have died in the uprising, which began March 2011.
In all, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll in Syria on Saturday reached 130.