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

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More