BEIRUT: A spate of retaliatory kidnappings has cast a pall over the Syrian refugee community in the country, causing a number of families to return to Syria and activists to take additional security measures.
Several Syrian opposition members were kidnapped then released in the Bekaa and near Beirut Monday. Security sources said the circumstances behind the incident remained vague, but it is thought it came in response to the abduction of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims by a Syrian opposition group in Syria in May. The quick release of the men indicated the kidnappers discovered they had targeted people with no links to the opposition, they said.
The May abduction has raised sectarian tensions in Lebanon, where politicians have yet to make progress on securing their release. The families of the abducted have become frustrated over the issue, holding protests over their detention and closing the airport road. The detained are thought to be in good health, but an opposition leader says they will not be released until the fall of the Syrian government.
The descent into retaliatory kidnappings could signal a new more serious phase of the crisis, further raising sectarian and political tensions, as the Syrian opposition is largely Sunni while the kidnapped are Shiite.
The Arabic correspondent for Russia Today TV channel reported receiving a warning that the abduction could be the beginning of further attacks targeting Syrian opposition members in Lebanon.
Leaders of Syrian opposition groups in Lebanon say they have stepped up security measures and limited their movement to avoid being kidnapped.
Ahmad Moussa, the spokesman of the opposition’s Local Coordinating Committee in Lebanon, said the increased sense of insecurity has been noticeable in his organization. Moussa, who claimed he has avoided being kidnapped twice over the past year, said he was speaking with political leaders to protect refugees.
“Syrian refugees in Lebanon are facing many obstacles; their conditions are terrible,” Moussa said.
“Syrian refugees are not terrorists and should never be perceived as such.”
Activists say there are around 90,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but that number is increasingly difficult to determine as Syrians flow both ways across the border and many don’t register with aid agencies.
Cross-border kidnappings have spiked as the Syrian conflict continues to boil and stability in Lebanon frays from the increased pressure.
Syrian activist Omar Shakir said he had decided to limit his travel and to try and leave his home only when necessary because of the increased risk.
The opposition-friendly city of Tripoli, he continued, is the only place in Lebanon he feels safe.
“I can stay in Tripoli, and I guess that it’s the only thing I can do to stay safe.”
Refugee activist Nabil Halabi said the kidnappings have been alarming enough for a number of Syrian families to return to their home in Syria despite the ongoing conflict.
“The families ran away because they were scared from the trend of kidnapping that is taking place in the country.”