The United States and Turkey on Friday warned their nationals against travelling to Lebanon, following mass kidnappings which included the reported abduction of another Turkish citizen.
The warnings came after around 20 people including one Turk were taken hostage in Beirut on Wednesday and another Turkish national on Thursday, according to the ministry.
On Wednesday, a Lebanese Shiite Muslim clan had claimed it had kidnapped a group of Syrians and the Turkish man after a family member was kidnapped this week by a Syrian rebel group which accused him of being a Hezbollah sniper.
The U.S. warned that its nationals face increased threats to their security in Lebanon, including the possibility of targeted kidnappings or terrorist attacks.
“The U.S. embassy has received reports of an increased possibility of attacks against U.S. citizens in Lebanon,” the embassy said in a statement, according to AFP news agency.
“Possible threats include kidnapping, the potential for an upsurge in violence, the escalation of family or neighborhood disputes, as well as U.S. citizens being the target of terrorist attacks in Lebanon.”
Meanwhile, the Turkish government said it was continuing efforts at multilateral level for the release of the two kidnapped citizens, according to the ministry statement.
“It is deemed beneficial if our citizens avoid travelling to Lebanon unless absolutely necessary,” said the ministry in a statement.
On Friday, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said the Turk who was kidnapped Wednesday was a representative of a Turkish company doing business in Lebanon and that he had nothing to do with politics.
Speaking to reporters, Gul said he had met with the Lebanese prime minister and foreign minister in Mecca on Thursday and demanded the immediate release of all those kidnapped.
Gul noted that the release of the Turkish businessman would “contribute to Turkish-Lebanese relations.”
The kidnappings sparked concern from Lebanon’s president, who held urgent talks with security chiefs and ministers on Thursday following the eruption of violence.
“I met with security leaders and the ministers concerned to discuss the issue of kidnappings and counter-kidnappings,” President Michel Sleiman said.
“We hope to resolve this diplomatically,” he said. “God willing, the Lebanese in Syria will be released and so will the kidnapped Syrians in Lebanon.”
Lebanese Shiite ‘clan’
But according to a report from the Associated Press, the powerful Shiite Muslim clan vowed further kidnappings of more Syrians in retaliation for the seizure of family member, Hassane Salim al-Meqdad, by rebels in Syria this week.
The Lebanese clan said on Thursday it has “halted” its “military operations” after reportedly kidnapping a group of Syrian opposition members and a Turkish citizen.
“At this moment, we halted all military operations on Lebanese territory. This announcement is because we have a sufficient number of Syrians linked to the Free Syrian Army,” said Maher al-Meqdad, spokesman for the clan which is demanded the release of a kinsman held in Syria.
But in an Associated Press report the clan claimed to have abducted more Syrian nationals and vowed further kidnappings
Maher al-Meqdad, a relative of the kidnapped Meqdad, warned on Thursday that “if anything happens to Hassane, we will kill the Turkish hostage we have and many others. But we will start with the Turks.”
Rebels who kidnapped Meqdad claimed he was a member of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, a staunch supporter of President Bashar Assad’s regime. Hezbollah and his family deny this.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Maher al-Meqdad said the clan has snatched more Syrians and warned that it would go on with further kidnappings until their clansman is released. He could not give an exact number but said the clan was now holding more than 20 captives.
On Thursday, the state-run Lebanese news agency also said that dozens more Syrians were kidnapped and their shops vandalized by rioters in Shiite areas of Beirut on Wednesday.
Several Gulf states ordered their nationals on Wednesday to leave Lebanon, with the United Arab Emirates warning that the situation was “very dangerous.”
Violence in Syria has spilled over into Lebanon, denting the country’s already fragile security situation, with cross-border shootings, shelling by the Syrian army, tit-for-tat kidnappings and sectarian clashes.
Lebanon has taken in around 38,000 refugees from the conflict across the border in Syria, which erupted in March last year.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Friday it had met with a brother of Hassan al-Meqdad, who was abducted last week.
The confidential talks were held in Beirut on Thursday night, a Geneva spokesman for the neutral aid agency said.
He declined to say whether ICRC officials in Damascus were in touch with the rebel Free Syrian Army about the case.
“For the situation of Syrian and Turkish nationals, the ICRC will act only upon a direct request made by families of those abducted,” Hassan said.
The ICRC does not get involved in negotiations for the release of abductees, but on request from a family it can try to establish contact with the “detaining party” in order to provide information to relatives, Hassan said.
“The ICRC can also facilitate the handover and transfer of the person when he is liberated and where a neutral intermediary is needed, always acting upon the request of all parties.”