News / Middle East

Lebanon Kidnappings Cause Regional Scare

Passengers carrying baggage try to pass, after main road leading to Beirut airport was blocked by relatives of the 11 Lebanese Shi'ite pilgrims who were abducted in Syria, August 15, 2012.
Passengers carrying baggage try to pass, after main road leading to Beirut airport was blocked by relatives of the 11 Lebanese Shi'ite pilgrims who were abducted in Syria, August 15, 2012.
Margaret Besheer
BEIRUT — Fears are growing that Lebanon could be drawn further into Syria's conflict, as several Arabian Gulf countries have called on their citizens to immediately leave Lebanon after a rash of kidnappings.

More than 20 Syrians and a Turkish national were reportedly seized in the Bekaa Valley and near Beirut by the powerful Shi'ite Muslim Mikdad family and its supporters this week.

They are angry over the capture of Lebanese national Hassan Salim Mikdad by the rebel Free Syrian Army. He was shown on Lebanese television beaten and bruised and saying he is a member of Hezbollah.

Shi'ite masked gunmen from the Meqdad clan, gather at the Meqdad family's association headquarters in the southern suburbs in Beirut, Lebanon, August 15, 2012.Shi'ite masked gunmen from the Meqdad clan, gather at the Meqdad family's association headquarters in the southern suburbs in Beirut, Lebanon, August 15, 2012.
x
Shi'ite masked gunmen from the Meqdad clan, gather at the Meqdad family's association headquarters in the southern suburbs in Beirut, Lebanon, August 15, 2012.
Shi'ite masked gunmen from the Meqdad clan, gather at the Meqdad family's association headquarters in the southern suburbs in Beirut, Lebanon, August 15, 2012.
On Wednesday, Mikdad family supporters vandalized dozens of Syrian-run stores in a Beirut neighborhood and then blocked the airport road with burning tires, prompting one French jet to divert to Cyprus.

Lebanese government officials are reported to be in talks with the Mikdad family to release all their hostages.

Hillal Khashan, a political scientist at American University in Beirut, says the Mikdad clan belongs to the powerful Shi'ite militia and political party, Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah is under pressure from its constituency for not doing anything - or not doing enough - to release the Mikdad man arrested in Syria," explained Khashan. "There is no question about it, the Free Syrian Army said they have evidence that he is a Hezbollah fighter alongside the [President Bashar] Assad forces. They made it very clear they would not release him even if Hezbollah and the Mikdad family takes scores of Syrians hostage.”

Khashan says the issue is that Hezbollah feels embarrassed. He says the powerful group cannot do anything to rescue Hassan Mikdad and they feel that the Free Syrian Army tried to sensationalize his capture. But he says the confrontation is not likely to ignite sectarian strife in fragile Lebanon.

“It is not in the interest of Hezbollah to allow the matter to escalate," said Khashan. "They are not interested in a civil war. They don't feel that a civil war in Lebanon would serve their objective.”

But Lebanon remained tense as the road to Beirut's international airport reopened Thursday morning. Arab Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates  have urged their nationals to leave Lebanon immediately in the wake of the kidnappings.

UN emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos speaks during a joint news conference with Lebanon's Minister of Social Affairs Wael Abu Faour in Beirut, August 16, 2012.UN emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos speaks during a joint news conference with Lebanon's Minister of Social Affairs Wael Abu Faour in Beirut, August 16, 2012.
x
UN emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos speaks during a joint news conference with Lebanon's Minister of Social Affairs Wael Abu Faour in Beirut, August 16, 2012.
UN emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos speaks during a joint news conference with Lebanon's Minister of Social Affairs Wael Abu Faour in Beirut, August 16, 2012.
Meanwhile, the U.N.'s humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, canceled a planned visit to Syrian refugees in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley in the wake of the kidnappings, saying her security officers had advised her not to go there.

Amos wrapped up a two-day visit to Damascus with a stop in Beirut. She told reporters that when the United Nations carried out aid assessments at the end of March there were about one million Syrians in need. She says that number has now more than doubled.

“Our view is that number has probably gone up to about 2.5 million," said Amos. "This is the people in Syria itself, separate to that of course, there are the people who have fled over the borders into Jordan, coming here to Lebanon, but also into Turkey and Iraq as refugees.”

She said she has been unable so far to persuade the Syrian government to allow in large international aid agencies that the United Nations needs to help it meet the needs of such a large number of people.

Amos dismissed the Syrian government's concern that such aid might reach the armed groups it is fighting, saying humanitarian work is done in an independent and impartial way.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs