08/16/2012, 00.00
MIDDLE EAST

Five Arab countries advise citizens to leave Lebanon for fear of "pro-Syrian" violence

Yesterday road to airport occupied by Shiites after (false) reports of the killing of 11 pilgrims. Air France diverts a flight from Beirut to Cyprus. Shiite clans kidnapp Syrians, a Turk and a Saudi linked to the Free Syrian Army in retaliation for capture of a group of Lebanese Shiites by Syrian opposition.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Five countries of the Arabian Peninsula - Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait - one after the other, have issued warnings to their nationals to leave Lebanon for fear of potential threats related to the Syrian conflict.

The proximity to the Syrian border and the close bonds between Lebanon's Shiite community and the Alawites in Syria is creating a lot of tension in the country of the cedars, with the political class divided on its stance toward its neighbor, whose army occupied Lebanon for nearly 30 years.

Yesterday several Lebanese reported news of the death of 11 pilgrims in an air raid in the town of Azaz, near Aleppo. The report - later proved false - pushed hundreds of people in the southern suburbs (inhabited mostly by Shiites) to block the road to the airport, which is located nearby (see photo). This in turn forced an Air France flight to Beirut, to divert and land in Cyprus "as a precautionary measure".

In all these months of conflict, dozens of Syrians have been kidnapped in Lebanon. At the same time, many Lebanese in Syria have been kidnapped. Among these, ten taken by rebels during clashes on the border between Syria and Turkey. The rebels accuse the captured Lebanese of being members of the 1500 Hezbollah army that arrived in Syria to support Bashar al-Assad. In retaliation, clan Shiites in Lebanon kidnapped 20 people, accused of being in contact with the Free Syrian Army, the army of deserters fighting against the dictatorship in Damascus. Among them are also some Syrians, a Turkish businessman and a Saudi. Shiites clans have threatened new kidnappings. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Emirates are all lined up against Assad and providing financial and military support to the opposition. Hence the decision to push their citizens to leave Lebanon.

Beirut, the Lebanese coast and the mountains have for decades been a tourist destination for the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. Their warning, in addition to causing economic problems in Lebanon shows that the Syrian conflict is spreading throughout the region.

 

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