BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army deployed in northeastern Baalbek Sunday after five residents of Arsal were kidnapped in retaliation for the abduction of a member of the Jaafar clan from nearby Labweh over the weekend.
The Baalbek-Hermel based Jaafar clan had threatened to block a major road linking Arsal and Labweh if one of their abducted family members was not released.
Hussein Kamel Jaafar was kidnapped late Saturday night on the outskirts of Arsal. He was reported to have been collecting scrap metal. His car was found abandoned with his mobile phone inside.
After Jaafar’s kidnapping, three Arsal residents – Mohammad Rayeh, Ashraf Rayed, Malek Hujeiri, Malek al-Fliti and Masoud Rayed – were abducted Sunday. Fliti was later released, but the fate of the others remained unknown.
The Jaafar family said if the 30-year-old was not returned they would block the road that links Arsal and Labweh, which is the only way to access the Baalbek International Highway from Arsal.
Residents of the northeast Bekaa Valley’s Arsal are mainly Sunni, while in the northwest Bekaa Valley’s Hermel they are predominantly Shiite.
Until recently there has been little sectarian tension between the communities, but the Syrian war has prompted suspicions between them as they back – and possibly join – opposite sides of the fighting on the other side of the border.
Arsal’s residents tend to support the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad, while those in Hermel mostly support the Syrian regime. Hezbollah, an ally of Assad, is the dominant political force in Hermel.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 25, 2013, on page 3.