Kidnappings bring Syria's civil war to Lebanon

Foreigners told to leave Beirut after UN report accuses the Assad regime of war crimes

Beirut

Masked men armed with assault rifles gathered in Beirut's southern suburbs yesterday to announce that they had taken dozens of Syrians hostage and threatened to kidnap Gulf nationals, as the sectarian spill over from the conflict took a sinister new twist in Syria's smaller neighbour.

Members of a powerful Shia clan warned of further "escalation" after taking the men hostage in the Lebanese capital in retaliation for the kidnapping of a family member across the border by rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The new crisis came as the UN said that its investigation into the Houla massacre had found that troops loyal to Assad were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"On the basis of available evidence, the commission concluded that the elements of the war crime of murder have been met," said the report by a panel appointed by the UN's Human Rights Council. It also said the rebel forces had committed war crimes during the conflict, but on a smaller scale.

Yesterday Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE ordered their citizens to leave Beirut immediately, saying reprisals may be taken against their nationals, who have strongly supported the Syrian opposition.

At least one plane was diverted from Beirut airport as hundreds of protesters, some armed, blocked the highway out of the city with burning tyres.

The mass kidnappings came after Hassan Meqdad was abducted by rebels in Syria and shown, blackened and bruised, admitting to being a sniper sent from Lebanon by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a video posted online. His family has denied he is a member of the group.

Yesterday morning, the hostage's brother Hatem announced that more than 20 Syrians travelling on two minibuses had been abducted by the family and would not be released until their kinsman is returned. However, the count rose throughout the day, with some reports putting the total at more than three dozen – including a Saudi Arabian and a Turkish national.

Hatem Meqdad said that the Lebanese Foreign Minister, Adnan Mansour, had called him to ask for the release of the Turkish citizen. “Mansour talked to me for three minutes… he asked me to release the Turkish abductee but I told him I was not ready to even give him the shoe of the abductee before my brother returns,” Mr Meqdad told the National News Agency.

Inflaming tensions was the reported death of four of 11 Lebanese Shia abducted last month as Assad regime airstrikes hit the northern Syrian city of Azaz where they were being held, killing at least 30 people. Photographs showed areas of the town – near the Turkish border – flattened by the bombing, with blackened bodies pulled from the rubble.

Members of the dead men's families – who claim they were simply pilgrims visiting a shrine in Syria – were among those who joined the protest on the airport road, according to witnesses.

The tensions in Lebanon, whose politics and religion are intricately linked with that of Syria, come as the conflict there becomes increasingly sectarian. The flames have been fanned by a proxy battle between Sunni Arab states – led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar – who back the opposition on the one hand, and the Syrian Alawite regime, backed by Iran and the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah.

The US has accused Iran of training militias to fight for the regime, a belief widely held by rebels, which has fuelled the sectarian kidnappings. The Iranian embassy came under attack by opposition forces yesterday as a fuel tanker exploded in a car park yards from a hotel where UN observers are staying. There was confusion over who was responsible, with conflicting claims from within the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Bookkeeper

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This accountancy firm have an e...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Developer / Mobile Apps / Java / C# / HTML 5 / JS

£17000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Junior Mobile Application Devel...

Recruitment Genius: LGV Driver - Category C or C+E

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national Company that manu...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?