BEIRUT: The Lebanese Meqdad clan announced Thursday it would suspend kidnappings, but threatened to kill a Turkish hostage if its abducted relative in Syria was killed.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for the formation of an extraordinary government for an extraordinary time, in order to cope with the spate of kidnappings in Lebanon.
“Kidnappings will stop during the next few hours because we already have a great treasure [Syrian hostages] to negotiate with,” Maher Meqdad, spokesman for the Medqad clan, told a news conference in Beirut's southern suburbs.
He said the family has released at least a dozen Syrians after determining that they were not members of the Free Syrian Army, adding that the clan still holds at least 20 Syrians.
Most of the kidnappings took place Wednesday following the abduction of Hassan Meqdad in Damascus.
Al-Arabiya television channel said that the Free Syrian Army arrested Hezbollah member Hassan Meqdad, who crossed into Syria as part of a 1,500-member group whose members later scattered to Damascus, Aleppo and Homs. Hezbollah has denied Hassan is a party member, as has the Meqdad clan.
Mikati expressed frustration with the spate of kidnappings and said that the government was exerting efforts behind-the-scenes to win the release of the Lebanese hostages.
“The issue of counter-kidnapping, threats and braggadocio [via] the media are all things that are not acceptable," Mikati told reporters at Beiteddine Palace, the president’s summer residence.
“The situation is extraordinary and difficult and requires an extraordinary government,” he added.
More Syrians were kidnapped in Lebanon Thursday before the Meqdad clan announced it was suspending what it called "military operations," prompting Gulf countries to begin evacuating their citizens.
On Thursday, 11 Syrians were snatched, 10 of them by a group called Al-Mukhtar al-Thaqafi, which demanded the release of 11 Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria on May 22.
The group warned that it would kidnap Syrian opposition members who support Syrian rebels.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Awad Asiri, denied that a Saudi national had been kidnapped in Lebanon.
“No Saudi citizen has been kidnapped in Lebanon,” Asiri told the Saudi Okaz newspaper in remarks published Thursday.
He said the Saudi embassy in Lebanon has “received assurances regarding [this issue] from Lebanese security services.”
His comments came in response to reports that a Saudi national had been kidnapped in retaliation for the abduction of Meqdad.
Earlier Thursday, the Meqdad clan said it would murder the Turkish hostage, Aidan Toufan, if Hassan were killed.
"If they kill Hassan Meqdad, the first person we will kill is the Turkish man," said Maher Meqdad.
Speaking to The Daily Star in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Meqdad also threatened further kidnappings.
“We have a slew of targets,” he said, but added that the clan would only kidnap Turkish nationals and Syrians affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Meqdad stressed that kidnappings would not take place “in a chaotic way.”
“We will not kidnap any Syrian before we are certain he is affiliated with the FSA,” he said.
The Meqdad family spokesman also ridiculed Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, who is expected to try to convince the Meqdads to release their hostages.
“He will fail in his negotiations with the clan Thursday,” Maher said. “Just like Foreign Affairs Minister [Adnan Mansour] failed, so will the interior minister in his meeting [Thursday].
Charbel is expected to meet with representatives of the Meqdad clan Thursday in a bid to secure the release of the abductees in Lebanon.
A clan member who preferred to remain anonymous said that Charbel “was not welcome.”
On another note, Meqdad stressed that his clan is “an entity totally independent of Hezbollah” and that it does not take orders from any party.
The tit-for-tat kidnappings cast further doubts over Lebanon’s ability to prevent the unrest in Syria from spilling over into Lebanon.
“What happened today is a clear indication that we are [on] the brink of major chaos in Lebanon,” a senior political source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Star Thursday.
In response to initial threats -- later retracted -- by the Meqdad clan against their citizens, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates urged their citizens to leave Lebanon immediately.
Security sources also told The Daily Star Thursday that Gulf countries – particularly Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE – have warned Lebanon through diplomatic channels that any kidnapping of their citizens on Lebanese soil would be met by stringent measures against Shiites in their own countries.
Turkey issued a similar warning, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In light of Wednesday’s random kidnappings, the Progressive Socialist Party of MP Walid Jumblatt issued a warning to the Meqdad family via Hezbollah that it would “react severely” to the kidnapping of any Syrian in Druze areas of Lebanon, and the Future Movement and Salafists made the same warning regarding Sunni areas.
Traffic was normal on the Beirut airport highway Thursday following a night which saw relatives and supporters of the 11 Lebanese kidnapped in Syria blocked the road in both directions, prompting an Air France flight headed to Beirut to change course and land in Larnaca, Cyprus, after after stopping in Damascus for two hours.
Sources at Rafik Hariri International Airport told The Daily Star that the airplane, 174 passengers is expected to land in Beirut later Thursday.
The families of the 11 hostages were protesting news that some or all of the kidnapped men were killed in a Syrian army air raid on the rebel-held town of Azaz on the Syria-Turkey border Wednesday.
Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour assured the Lebanese Thursday that all the hostages were safe.
In a related development, President Michel Sleiman said the recent spate of kidnappings in Lebanon did not necessitate extraordinary security measures, and called on the Lebanese to be optimistic.
“The Higher Defense Council will meet only if it is necessary, but there are no special requirements as regards the security situation,” Sleiman told reporters before chairing a National Dialogue session in Beiteddine, Mount Lebanon, where he has his summer residence.