Battle For Syria Crosses Into Lebanon
Members of the Mikdad clan, a powerful Shiite family from the Bekaa Valley, also kidnapped a Turkish man, and are explicitly targeting citizens of Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, which are the three regional states most out front and direct in their support of the rebel forces trying to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad. In response to these threats, which were broadcast on several Lebanese televison outlets, the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates urged their citizens to leave Lebanon with urgency. As the Wall Street Journal reports:
"The kidnappings are the latest indication that Syria's conflict is splitting the region along largely sectarian lines. Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad has surrounded himself primarily with members of his Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. He is opposed largely by Sunnis, the majority population in Syria. As the conflict has deepened, Sunni-majority neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, have supported Syria's rebels. Most Shiites in Lebanon support Mr. Assad."
Syria has long wielded outsize influence in Lebanese politics and society; as the Washington Post reports, it had posted tens of thousands of troops in the country until pulling them out in the wake of the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, a murder widely believed to be the work of the Iran and Syria-sponsored militant group Hezbollah.
Wednesday's mass kidnapping and effective declaration of war by the Mikdad clan and its allies against foreign nationals in a country outside of Syria opens up a new front in the conflict, but a predictable one given the state of the neighborhood. As the New York Times reports:
"While the circumstances of the kidnappings were in dispute, the events reflected Lebanon’s vulnerability to violence reverberating from Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began nearly 18 months ago. Extended families with differing allegiances straddle both countries, and the use of hostages signaled the rise of abduction as a tactic by antagonists in the conflict.
Lebanon, with a divided government that is often unwilling to confront private militias, has already been shaken by violent clashes between supporters and opponents of the Syrian government, especially near the Lebanon-Syria border. Neither the police nor the army responded to the abductions Wednesday, and officials remained silent even as Shiite militias blocked traffic on Beirut’s airport Wednesday night."
Also on Wednesday, Syrian government forces shelled the northern city of Azaz, not far from the Turkish border. According to the New York Times, casualties there are reported to be more than 20, including women and children. For its part, Lebanese television reported this attack killed some or all of the 11 Lebanese pilgrims who had been detained in Azaz by rebel forces, fanning the flames and leading family members of the pilgrims to partake in their own kidnappings. A source in Azaz claimed that all of the pilgrims had been moved in anticipation of the bombing and were safe.
For its part, the Mikdad clan and its allies do not seem to be letting up, and Beirut appears to be the next front in the Assad regime's battle for its own survival.
Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of Syria here.
Reach Executive Producer Matt Pressberg here.