Aug 15, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
(BBC NEWS) Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar have urged their citizens to leave Lebanon “immediately” after a string of kidnappings.
The warnings came after a Shia Muslim clan in Lebanon began taking Sunni Muslim hostages to force the release of a clan member held by mainly Sunni rebels in neighbouring Syria.
The rebels say the clan member is fighting for the Syrian government.
They say he is a member of the Shia Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.
The official Saudi news agency Spa quoted a foreign ministry official as saying Saudi citizens should avoid “travelling to Lebanon for their own safety”. A UAE foreign ministry official said it issued its alert after the embassy “received information about UAE nationals being targeted and because of the difficult and sensitive circumstances in Lebanon,” state news agency Wam reported.
This comes after the powerful al-Meqdad clan in Lebanon said it had abducted a number of Syrians who it said were connected to Syrian rebels. A Turkish national is also reported to be among those seized.
The Shia Muslim al-Meqdads said they had acted to force the release of one of their members captured in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
The rebels said the seized man was connected to the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah and was fighting for the Syrian government – a claim denied by the Meqdad clan.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are all Sunni Muslim countries that support the Syrian rebels fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad.
The BBC’s Kevin Connolly, in Beirut, says the al-Meqdads, who are thought to be heavily involved in smuggling, have been described as a family with a military wing.
Lebanon is a popular tourist destination for Saudis and citizens of other Gulf states.
Like Syria’s other neighbours – Turkey, Iraq and Jordan – Lebanon has absorbed thousands of refugees fleeing from the conflict.
But unlike the other countries, Lebanon risks being plunged into sectarian strife, possibly even civil war, by the strains inflicted on its own delicate internal situation by the Syrian crisis, correspondents say.
Tripoli – Lebanon’s second city – has recently witnessed street gun battles between supporters and opponents of President Assad.