Mikati is in İstanbul to attend the Partners Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), which will run from May 31 to June 1, an initiative proposed by former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, sponsored by Prime Minister Erdoğan and attended by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The forum will involve representatives of more than 50 states and international organizations.
The Lebanese hostages were among a group of pilgrims returning to Lebanon from Iran when they were stopped by gunmen after their bus crossed into Syria from Turkey last week. The gunmen sent women home but kept the men. The kidnapping has triggered protests in Shiite areas of Beirut, raising fears of a resurgence of sectarian tensions across Lebanon. Turkey has tried to broker the release of the Lebanese hostages, but efforts have not yet yielded results.
Mikati was expected to visit Turkey last week, but he canceled his scheduled meeting with Turkish officials after claims that the Lebanese hostages had been released and sent to Turkey were proven false. Mikati had planned to come to Turkey to receive the freed hostages.
Lebanese and Syrian officials said the Lebanese pilgrims were kidnapped by the Syrian opposition's Free Syrian Army, apparently to be used in a prisoner swap with the Syrian government. However, the group denies any connection with the kidnapping.