Four Arab states in Lebanon call
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait have urged their citizens to leave Lebanon after a rash of kidnappings of Sunni Muslims by a powerful Shia clan.
Lebanese Shia gunmen yesterday kidnapped more than 20 people in retaliation for the capture of one of their kinsmen in Syria, prompting Sunni Gulf states to warn their citizens to leave Lebanon immediately.
The kidnappings raised fears that violence may be spilling across a region riven by sectarian rancour and power rivalries.
A Turk, a Saudi and several Syrians were among those abducted in an area of Lebanon controlled by Hizbullah Shia militants, raising the risk that the sectarian violence driving the conflict in Syria will spread to its neighbour, which fought its own civil war on sectarian lines for 15 years.
Saudi Arabia's official news agency said Riyadh's embassy in Lebanon had "called on Saudi citizens currently in Lebanon to leave immediately given the latest developments in Lebanon and the appearance of some explicit threats to abduct Saudi citizens and others".
A diplomat said a Turkish businessman had been kidnapped shortly after arriving in Lebanon on yesterday. "He was here for business, arrived today, and was kidnapped near the airport," the source said, adding there was little progress so far in negotiations to secure his release.
"The snowball will grow," warned Hatem al-Meqdad, a senior member of the powerful Lebanese Shia Meqdad family who said his brother was detained by the Free Syrian Army two days ago.
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose Alawite minority is an offshoot of Shia Islam, has long relied on support from Shia Iran and its Hizbullah allies. He accuses the Sunni powers of the Gulf and Turkey of promoting the revolt against him, which grew out of Arab Spring demonstrations 18 months ago.
While his opponents, and the Western powers which sympathise with them, insist they want to avoid the kind of sectarian blood-letting seen in Iraq, rebels who mostly come from Syria's disadvantaged Sunni majority have seized Iranians and Lebanese there in recent weeks, saying they may be working for Dr Assad.
Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are all led by Sunnis and strongly support the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting Dr Assad.
Elsewhere, Air France had to divert one of its flights to Lebanon after it was unable to land in Beirut for "security reasons". The road from the airport into central Beirut has regularly been blocked by families of Lebanese hostages held in Syria.
An Air France spokeswoman, correcting earlier reports that the plane had gone to Amman, said it had been diverted to Damascus where it had refuelled before flying on to Larnaca in Cyprus.