BAALBEK, Lebanon: It was a strained and bloody weekend in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and northern border regions as a recent wave of kidnappings continued and violence left more than 10 people dead. Tensions spiked Sunday as six more residents were kidnapped in the Bekaa Valley in retaliatory hostage-taking by members of the Moqdad family.
Members of the Moqdad clan previously kidnapped 10 people from the northeastern border town of Arsal in retaliation for the abduction of Mohammad Moqdad, who was taken hostage Thursday.
Including the six additional individuals who were kidnapped, the Moqdads now hold 16 hostages.
The new abductions sparked tensions in the Bekaa Valley and Army units deployed in the area were placed on alert.
Arsal’s mayor, Ali Hujeiri, said earlier Moqdad’s kidnapping was sparked by investigations into the June killing of four Shiites in the Wadi Rafik area.
Hujeiri claimed that three Arsal residents, Hasan Hussein Rayed, Omar al-Atrash and Sami al-Atrash, were allegedly involved, along with several Syrians, in the Wadi Rafik murders.
Omar al-Atrash allegedly kidnapped Moqdad “as a response to the investigation that revealed his role in many kidnappings and killings,” Hujeiri said.
But the mayor stressed that Arsal residents opposed such crimes and asked the security forces to act quickly to put an end to the escalating tensions.
Kidnappings involving families from the Sunni-majority Arsal and the Shiite clans of the northern Bekaa Valley have been on the rise since the beginning of the Syrian crisis.
Meanwhile, residents of the border town of Arida in north Lebanon attacked a joint Lebanese-Syrian security center Sunday over the alleged killing of a Syrian attempting to cross into Lebanon.
At the Arida border crossing, residents attacked the center of the Lebanese General Security and Syrian Customs Department, throwing stones at the building and breaking one of its glass windows.
They also blocked the Arida road with burning tires, but reopened it later in the day.
The protesters claimed a Syrian man fleeing the violence in his country was shot dead by Syrian military forces while trying to cross into Lebanon through the northern border.
They added that the body of the Syrian man fell in the Nahr al-Kabir River in Akkar, which forms part of the northern border between the countries.
General Security issued a statement later saying efforts were underway to arrest those who attacked the center.
The protesters spoke out against what they said were ongoing border breaches by the Syrian army and urged the Lebanese Army to deploy along the northern frontier.
Violence from the Syrian conflict has repeatedly spilled over into Lebanese towns along both the northern and eastern borders, often causing death and injuries.
Arida residents have previously held several protests against the Syrian army and blocked fuel tankers from crossing into Syria, arguing that President Bashar Assad’s troops use the fuel in assaults on innocent civilians.
Also contributing to tensions in the border region Sunday was a Saturday airstrike on the Syrian side of the frontier that left at least nine refugees dead.
The Syrian regime was targeting the rebel-held town of Yabroud inside Syria, just across the border from Baalbek villages housing Syrians who fled a government offensive in June, security sources confirmed to The Daily Star.
Lebanese and Syrian security forces later told The Daily Star Syrian military helicopters pursued fighters from the opposition Al-Farouq and Tawhid Brigades into the border area of Qabu, which faces the mountainous region of Arsal.
During the chase the helicopters bombed the area, killing nine people and wounding 16 civilians and agricultural workers who were trying to cross into Lebanese territory.
The wounded were transferred to Universal Hospital in Ras Baalbek and the Rayan Hospital in Baalbek, the source added.
Lebanon and Syria share a porous border some 330 kilometers long.
Separately, two people were killed and four others were wounded in the Baalbek neighborhood of Sharawneh Saturday afternoon in a shootout between the Army and gunmen.
An Army statement explained that the shooting took place when Lebanese soldiers instructed armed and wanted men traveling in a vehicle to stop. The men, among who were Ali and Hamza Zoaiter, shot at the troops, who then returned fire.
The statement added that a child, Noah Zoaiter, traveling with the armed men in their car, was wounded along with Samira Manni and her children Tania Manni and Samir Manni.
Samira and Tania later succumbed to their wounds.