Pakistan rescues 169 Shia pilgrims stranded in Syria – Middle East Monitor

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Pakistan has rescued and repatriated 169 of its citizens stranded in Syria after they traveled to the country as Shia pilgrims.

According to a statement yesterday by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) spokesman Abdullah Hafeez Khan, one of their planes was dispatched to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo to pick up the 169 Pakistani nationals.

The Pakistanis are said to have initially stayed in the capital Damascus and fly back from there commercially. But their plans have been hampered after the heavy damage to Damascus International Airport and its runways from Israeli airstrikes over the weekend.

The Pakistani government then coordinated with Syrian regime authorities to arrange for the stranded citizens to be transported by bus to Aleppo, where the airport there – which still operates with a limited number of commercial flights – facilitates repatriations from Islamabad could. The passengers landed in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi yesterday.

OPINION: Pakistan is trying to turn the tide and boost religious tourism

Despite the ongoing conflict in Syria and the phenomenon of some Pakistani Shia joining Iranian-backed groups to fight alongside Bashar Al-Assad’s regime before returning home, Pakistan’s Shia citizens have continued to travel to Syria, to visit the shrine of Zainab the Great -daughter of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad as well as other relatives and notables.

Last year, PIA decided to increase religious tourism and pilgrimage by operating direct flights to Syria and Iraq twice a week.

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