Free Syrian Army Abducts 16 Lebanese Shiite Pilgrims in Aleppo
The rebel Free Syrian Army on Tuesday abducted 16 Lebanese men in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo who were on their way back from a pilgrimage trip to Iran.
“Buses belonging to the Badr al-Kobra and Jannat al-Redwan pilgrimage campaigns were ambushed in Aleppo shortly after crossing the Syrian-Turkish border,” al-Jadeed television reported.
A woman who was in the convoy told al-Jadeed: “After we crossed the Turkish-Syrian border, we were ambushed by gunmen from the Free Syrian Army in the Azzaz area. They forced the men to dismount the buses and took them to an unknown destination and left us there.”
Al-Jadeed said women headed to a Syrian police station and that policemen reassured them that they have started negotiations with the kidnappers.
State-run National News Agency put the number of those abducted at 16 while Syrian media said an "armed terrorist gang" had kidnapped 11 Lebanese and their Syrian driver.
NNA identified the 16 abductees as Abbas Shoaib, Hassan Mahmoud, Mehdi Ballout, Hussein al-Siblani, Ali Abbas, Abu Ali Saleh, Hussein Omar, Mustafa Yassine, Ali Zgheib, Awad Ibrahim, Mohammed Monzer, Hussein Arzouni, Ali al-Ahmar, Ali Safa, Rabih Zgheib and Ali Termos.
"My two brothers-in-law were among about 12 people kidnapped by the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo as they were heading back to Beirut on board a bus after visiting religious sites in Iran," said one man who refused to give his name.
"The women who were with them were allowed to go free," he told Agence France Presse.
The man was among family members of those detained and hundreds of supporters who gathered on Tuesday afternoon in the Beirut southern suburb of Bir al-Abed to demand their release.
Meanwhile, protesters blocked roads in the Beirut southern suburbs of al-Kafaat, Bir al-Abed, Shatila and al-Msharrafiyeh in protest at the kidnap.
Roads were later reopened after Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah urged calm in a televised speech and called on protesters to leave the streets.
The brother of one of those kidnapped said the Free Syrian Army had vowed to release the men in exchange for FSA members detained by Syrian authorities.
Prime Minister Najib Miqati’s office said he was making the necessary contacts to ensure the release of the Lebanese abducted.
"Prime Minister Miqati has urged families of the kidnapped to remain calm and assured them he was following the issue closely to ensure the safety of those kidnapped and their quick release," a statement said.
One man who refused to give his name said his two bothers-in-law were among those abducted.
"They were heading back to Beirut on board a bus after visiting religious sites in Iran," said the man. "The women who were with them were allowed to go free."
The brother of Abbas Shaayb, who organized the pilgrimage, said the women were staying in a hotel in Aleppo.
"Let's see what the friends of the Free Syrian Army in Lebanon are going to do now," said the man, referring to the Sunni-led opposition in Lebanon that has backed the 14-month uprising in neighboring Syria.
The reported kidnappings were sure to further inflame sectarian tensions in Lebanon over the Syrian crisis.
Clashes between the pro- and anti-Assad camps in the country have left some 12 people dead in the past 10 days.
Nasrallah said it was necessary for all Lebanese to remain calm.
"The atmosphere is tense because of the events of recent days," he said. "Everyone is urged not to make matters worse."