Saudi Arabia has ordered its citizens to leave Lebanon immediately, citing fear of kidnappings by Shi’ites angry over rebels in Syria taking prisoners from Lebanon and Iran.
The statement by the Saudi Embassy in Beirut was published on the official Saudi news agency Wednesday. It urges its citizens to leave immediately and warns travelers against visiting Lebanon, a popular destination for Gulf residents in the summer.
A large Lebanese Shi’ite clan said on Wednesday it has kidnapped at least 20 Syrians to try to secure the release of a family member abducted near Damascus this week.
According to a clan member, a Saudi national is among the group of men kidnapped.
Hatem al-Muqdad, a brother of the man kidnapped by rebels in
Damascus, confirmed reports of a kidnapped Saudi to the local television channel Al Jadeed.
“They were kidnapped because a member of our family was taken the day before yesterday in Syria,” family member Abu Ali al-Muqdad told AFP by telephone, adding that one of the Syrians was injured.
In remarks to Lebanon’s National News Agency, Hassan al-Meqdad’s brother Hatem said “the snowball would grow”, and warned “Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey and their citizens.”
According to Arab television reports, a Syrian rebel group claimed it had kidnapped Hassan al-Muqdad on Monday, accusing him of being a sniper and a member of Lebanese Shi’ite militia Hezbollah.
“He is neither a sniper nor a member of Hezbollah,” Abu Ali said. “All the accusations are a lie.”
“Our demand is not political, this is a humanitarian issue,” he added.
Lebanese television station Al-Mayadeen ran an interview with a member of the Muqdad clan who threatened “further action until Hassan is freed. All Syrians in Lebanon are a legitimate target.”
The television channel also broadcast a video of two of those purportedly kidnapped, surrounded by armed men.
A high-ranking security official told AFP he had no immediate comment on the matter. “We are working on it,” he said.
Ahmed Shlash, a Syrian MP in Lebanon to negotiate their release, told Al-Mayadeen: “Syrians coming to work in Lebanon should not be dragged into a sectarian struggle. Young people coming to work in Lebanon have nothing to do with politics.”
Violence in neighboring Syria has spilled over into Lebanon in the form of cross-border shootings, shelling by the Syrian army, tit-for-tat kidnappings and sectarian clashes between groups which are divided over the revolt.
Syrian rebel groups have frequently accused Hezbollah -- which is closely allied with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad -- of interfering in the violence, though the group has consistently denied this.
Syria occupied Lebanon militarily and politically for nearly three decades until 2005, when its troops were forced to pull out under international pressure after the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri that year.
Seven years after Syria withdrew from Lebanon, the country's political forces remain sharply divided over their neighbor.