News / Middle East

Lebanon Kidnappings Raise Threat of Syria Conflict Spillover

Shi'ite masked gunmen from the Mekdad clan gather at the Mekdad family's association headquarters in the southern suburbs in Beirut, Lebanon, August 15, 2012.Shi'ite masked gunmen from the Mekdad clan gather at the Mekdad family's association headquarters in the southern suburbs in Beirut, Lebanon, August 15, 2012.
x
Shi'ite masked gunmen from the Mekdad clan gather at the Mekdad family's association headquarters in the southern suburbs in Beirut, Lebanon, August 15, 2012.
Shi'ite masked gunmen from the Mekdad clan gather at the Mekdad family's association headquarters in the southern suburbs in Beirut, Lebanon, August 15, 2012.
Margaret Besheer
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Lebanese clan that kidnapped dozens of Syrians and a Turkish businessman last week in a bid to get a captured relative freed in Syria, says it will allow more time for government efforts to free the relative before it takes further action. The kidnappings stoked fears that Lebanon is being drawn further into the Syrian conflict.
 
In May, 11 Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims from Lebanon were kidnapped in Syria and are believed to still be in the city of Azaz, which recently came under heavy government shelling.

Then, last week, the Mekdad clan, a prominent family in Beirut's Shi'ite southern suburbs, snatched dozens of Syrians and a 28-year old Turkish businessman. The family acted after clan member Hassan Salim Mekdad was shown beaten and bruised on Arabic TV, and confessed to being a member of Lebanon's political/militant faction Hezbollah and a fighter in Syria.

Drastic actions

Family spokesman Maher Mekdad denied that his relative has ties to Hezbollah. He said 40-year-old Hassan, a bank employee, went to Syria weeks before the uprising began last year because he had legal problems with his employer and sought to escape arrest in Lebanon.

Family spokesman Maher Mekdad, for the Mekdad clan, a family in Beirut's Shi'ite southern suburbs that has snatched dozens of Syrians and a Turkish businessman in an effort to free a captured relative in Syria, Aug. 23, 2012. (VOA - M. Besheer)Family spokesman Maher Mekdad, for the Mekdad clan, a family in Beirut's Shi'ite southern suburbs that has snatched dozens of Syrians and a Turkish businessman in an effort to free a captured relative in Syria, Aug. 23, 2012. (VOA - M. Besheer)
x
Family spokesman Maher Mekdad, for the Mekdad clan, a family in Beirut's Shi'ite southern suburbs that has snatched dozens of Syrians and a Turkish businessman in an effort to free a captured relative in Syria, Aug. 23, 2012. (VOA - M. Besheer)
Family spokesman Maher Mekdad, for the Mekdad clan, a family in Beirut's Shi'ite southern suburbs that has snatched dozens of Syrians and a Turkish businessman in an effort to free a captured relative in Syria, Aug. 23, 2012. (VOA - M. Besheer)
As for the kidnappings, he said the family felt it had no option but to take matters into its own hands because the government has not been able to free the 11 Shi'ite pilgrims held in Syria.

“We know the only way to get Hassan is to put pressure on the FSA [Free Syrian Army]. The Syrian citizens, if you kidnap a thousand, it's not going to [make any] effect," said Mekdad. "But one Turki, yes, it affects, because Turkish elections are next year, and that's going to affect [Prime Minister] Erdogan and the opposition in Turkey. That's why we took this decision.”
 
Sitting in his garden, Mekdad told VOA that the family continues to hold the Turkish businessman and about 20 Syrians. They released at least 20 other Syrians last week. He turned down this reporter's request to meet some of the hostages, saying he did not know where they are, only that they are being held in Beirut's southern suburbs.

Specter of war rises

The kidnappings have resurrected grim memories of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, during which hundreds of people, including Westerners, were abducted, many never to be seen again.

After a Mekdad family member told reporters the clan would next target Saudis and Qataris for their countries' assistance to Syrian rebels holding Hassan, Gulf Arab governments urged their citizens to leave Lebanon immediately. That abruptly ended an already slow summer tourist season that depends on free-spending Gulf visitors.

Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East Center, said the kidnappings are a dangerous development for Lebanon.

“Kidnappings were one of the ways that the Lebanese civil war gained steam, unfortunately, and it's one of the ways that civil wars all over the world gather steam, and things get very quickly out of hand," said Salem. "Luckily, we have a bit of a lull now, an initial escalation has quieted somewhat. Certainly the faster abductees of all sides are released, certainly the better it is for Lebanon. It's a very dangerous turn of events.”

Momentum

As fears were growing that the Mekdads would take more hostages, Maher Mekdad announced Thursday the family would wait for the results of negotiation efforts by a Lebanese Cabinet crisis committee before taking further action.

Mekdad said he believes the kidnapping drama will end soon, hinting that he thinks his relative will be released in the coming days. He has a clear message to the Turkish government, though, who he believes is pivotal for a successful resolution.

“Put pressure on the FSA. Release Hassan and you will take your citizen back home. [It is] That simple," he urged. "It is not a game. We are not playing a game. We need Hassan back home. We are not going to wait another four months and nobody listens to us, as what happened with the 11 hostages.”

As for the Lebanese government, he said, it should take better care of its citizens and not abandon them to take care of themselves.

You May Like

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid