Hezbollah calls for calm after Syria kidnapping
The leader of Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah appealed for calm yesterday after people blocked roads and burned tyres in Beirut to protest the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shiites in neighbouring Syria.
The abductions in Syria's northern Aleppo province threatened to ignite dangerous sectarian tensions and fuelled fears that Lebanon is getting drawn into the chaos next door.
The Lebanese were on their way home from a religious pilgrimage in Iran when Syrian rebels intercepted their vehicles, Syria's state-run SANA news agency said. The rebels abducted the 11 men and a Syrian driver. The women were released.
Lebanese security officials confirmed the kidnapping.
As the news of the kidnappings spread, residents of the southern suburbs of Beirut, a Shiite area, took to the streets and burned tyres and blocked roads in protest. The leader of Hezbollah, a strong ally of the Syrian regime, appealed for calm and warned his followers against revenge attacks targeting Syrians.
"This is strictly prohibited," Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
He said the Lebanese government must press for the pilgrims' release.
"We will work day and night until these beloved people are with us," Nasrallah said.
Hezbollah has stood by Syrian President Bashar Assad as he struggles to put down a 15-month-old uprising.
Sunnis form the backbone of the Syrian revolt, which has unleashed boiling sectarian tensions. Assad and the ruling elite in Syria belong to the tiny Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiism.