Four Arab nations on Wednesday urged their citizens to leave Lebanon immediately in the wake of the recent abductions of Sunni Muslims by a Lebanese Shiite clan in retaliation for the capture of one of their members by the rebel fighters in Syria.
The latest move by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Kuwait comes amid fears that the ongoing conflict in Syria might be spilling into its neighboring countries, and increasingly turning sectarian in nature.
The powerful al-Meqdad clan had abducted 30 Syrians in Lebanon earlier on Wednesday in response to the capture of its member by Syrian rebels a day earlier. The clan has since threatened the hostages and to carryout extensive abductions of Sunni Syrians as well as nationals of Sunni Arab States backing the Syrian rebels if their fellow-member is not released soon.
Thousands of Syrians, mostly Sunnis, have sought refuge in Lebanon after fleeing the ongoing violence in their home nations. Incidentally, Lebanon's population is predominantly Shiite, while Syrian rebels are mostly Sunnis. Several Lebanese towns have already witnessed fierce clashes between opponents and supporters of the Syrian regime.
Syrian rebels had claimed earlier that the al-Meqdad clan member they seized in Damascus, identified as Salim al-Meqdad, was a member of Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement. They say he was one of 1,500 Hezbollah fighters who arrived in Syria in early August to fight on behalf of the Syrian regime headed by President Bashar al-Assad.
Both the Hezbollah and al-Meqdad's family has rejected the claims made by the Syrian rebels. Nevertheless, the United States had clamped new sanctions on the Lebanese militant group earlier this month for its role in aiding the Syrian President and his regime. Incidentally, Hezbollah is designated as a terrorist group by the United States.
Currently, heavy fighting is progressing between government forces and armed rebels opposed to Assad's rule in Syria. Although Syrian security forces managed to retain their control over capital Damascus despite repeated attempts by rebel fighters to capture the city, Syria's largest city of Aleppo has been the center of intense fighting over the past four weeks.
More than 15,000 people, mostly civilians, are believed to have been killed and tens of thousands displaced since anti- Assad protests broke out in March 2011. The Opposition, however, claims the actual death toll to be closer to 20,000. The conflict is now viewed as a civil war by most of the international community.
Unabated violence has forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians to seek refuge in neighboring Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. The number of people fleeing Syria has increased considerably after fighting in Aleppo started.
by RTT Staff Writer
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