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Middle East
Lebanese pilgrims 'kidnapped' in Syria
Abduction of several men in Aleppo, allegedly by Syrian rebels, prompts protests in Beirut suburbs.
Last Modified: 23 May 2012 13:14
Lebanese Shia women (right), whose husbands were kidnapped in Aleppo, arrived at Beirut airport on Tuesday [AFP]

At least 11 Lebanese men and their Syrian driver have been kidnapped in the Aleppo province of Syria while heading back home by bus from a pilgrimage in Iran. Syrian media said an "armed terrorist gang" was responsible.

Adnan Mansur, Lebanon's foreign minister, said on Wednesday that those kidnapped would be freed "within hours".

"According to information provided by an Arab country, those kidnapped will be free within hours," Mansur told Al-Jadeed, a private satellite television station.

He identified the men behind the abductions as "a splinter group of the armed Syrian opposition," but did not give details.

The women in the group were not seized during Tuesday's incident.

A group of 34 women returned to Beirut early on Wednesday.

"After we crossed the Turkish Syrian border, a white car with gunmen inside stopped us," Anaam Yateem, a woman
who was with the abducted men, told reporters at the airport.

"They pointed their guns and got into the buses. First they took us to the fields saying that they are taking us away from the shelling, while they took us there to kidnap the men ...They said they are the Free Syrian Army."

Lebanon backlash

The kidnappings prompted families of those abducted to gather in Beirut's mainly Shia southern suburbs to demand their release.

The protesters closed down several roads, including the old airport road, with burning tyres and garbage bins.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah appealed for restraint in an address broadcast by Lebanese TV stations on Tuesday, saying: "...any act of violence or individual action will not help this case at all".

The kidnappings were sure to further inflame sectarian tension in Lebanon, where clashes between the supporters and opponents of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad have left at least 12 people dead in the past 10 days.

The abductions came hours after a court released on bail a Sunni Muslim whose arrest earlier this month sparked unrest in a Sunni region of north Lebanon that backs the revolt against Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect.

'Shooting' in Deir al-Zor

In a separate incident on Tuesday, two people were killed in eastern Syria after police opened fire on a crowd who came out to welcome UN ceasefire observers, a rebel official said.

There was no independent confirmation of the incident that was said to have occurred in the province of Deir al-Zor.

"As soon as the UN convoy entered al-Busaira, a jubilant crowd of hundreds came out to welcome them. It was not minutes before they came under fire," Abu Laila, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) official, said by phone from the town.

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"The observers immediately left al-Busaira. We called them to come back but they refused."

Fighting ensued between Assad's forces and FSA fighters based in the town, Abu Laila said.

Another opposition source in Deir al-Zor said that government forces surrounding al-Busaira began firing anti-aircraft guns at the town.

The reports of violence come three days after a suicide attack hit the main town of in Deir al-Zor, killing at least seven people and wounding 100 others.

Al-Busaira is one of many towns and villages under rebel control in Deir al-Zor, a large oil-producing province bordering Iraq, that have been attacked repeatedly in the last four months by government troops trying to regain control.

Assad had relied on a network of alliances with Sunni Muslim tribes forged by his late father, Hafez al-Assad, to keep Deir al-Zor under control.

But these understandings began breaking down after the province erupted in mass demonstrations in July demanding Assad's removal, and tanks were sent to quell the protest movement.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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