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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid