The leader of the militant group Hezbollah appealed for calm last night after 12 Lebanese Shia Muslims were abducted in neighbouring Syria.
Security officials said the men were kidnapped by Syrian rebels yesterday as they returned from a religious pilgrimage to Iraq. The abductions, in Aleppo province, immediately stoked tensions in Lebanon. Shias in southern Beirut took to the streets and burned tyres in protest.
In a televised speech, Hezbollah's leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah appealed for calm and warned his followers against carrying out any revenge attacks on Syrians.
The incident heightened fears that Lebanon is getting drawn into the chaos which has been raging on its doorstep for 15 months. Lebanon navigates a fragile fault line over Syria, which had troops on the ground in Lebanon for nearly 30 years until 2005, and still has strong ties to Lebanon's security services. The countries share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries which can quickly turn violent.
On Sunday, an anti-Syrian cleric was killed in northern Lebanon, setting off a night of deadly street battles in Beirut. It was some of the worst fighting in the Lebanese capital for four years. At least two people were killed and 15 wounded. Sunnis form the backbone of the Syrian uprising, which has unleashed sectarian tensions.