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

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid