BEIRUT: Suspected Nusra Front militants were holding around 10 Lebanese truck drivers hostage at a major border crossing with Jordan Friday, two days after rebel fighters seized control of it from the Syrian government.
“The incident occurred in no man’s land between the Syrian Nasib crossing and Jordan’s Jaber crossing,” Lebanon’s Economy Minister Alain Hakim, who was in contact with Jordanian authorities, told The Daily Star.
He said about 10 Lebanese truckers were kidnapped by militants in an area controlled by the Nusra Front, but the actual number was not known.
A number of cars and trucks have been stuck in the area since Wednesday, Hakim said.
Omar al-Ali, head of the Lebanese refrigerated truck union, was cited by AFP as saying that between 30 and 35 Lebanese drivers and their trucks and refrigerated vehicles had been trapped in the free zone on the border.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Seer al-Dinnieh Mayor Ahmad Alam said that eight trucks he owns were stuck with their drivers at the border. He explained that two were stuck on the Nasib crossing, two on Jordan's Jaber crossing and four were "out of reach."
Alam added that his trucks and a number of other trucks contained fresh food products that would not last another day, confirming that "many tons" of items were stolen.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said around 300 vehicles were stuck at the crossing, stranded between a closed Jordanian border from one side and Syrian Islamist militants on the other.
Hakim said he had been speaking since Friday morning with Jordanian authorities through Jordan’s ambassador to Lebanon.
No ransom has been demanded yet, Hakim said, refuting media reports that the gunmen asked for $50,000 for the release of each Lebanese trucker.
Syrian rebels took control of the major southern crossing Wednesday night, a day after Jordanian authorities had announced the shutting of the borders.
Not mentioning that the area fell into the hands of the rebels, the Syrian government announced through its media agency SANA Thursday that the Nasib crossing was now closed and that any attempt to cross the borders would be considered “illegal trespassing.”
Dozens of truckers were stuck as a result between the two borders, and gunmen took the opportunity to loot the trucks as well as the transit area.
LBCI’s correspondent Bassam Abou Zeid, who had been reporting on the developments since Thursday, posted on Twitter Friday pictures showing gunmen looting the trucks.
The pictures showed militants with rifles on their backs loading their vehicles and motorcycles with furniture, boxes of food and other items.
One of the pickups used by the looters had the three-star flag used by Syrian rebels on the side of it.
Syrian rebels celebrated the takeover of the border crossing on their Twitter accounts, with some writing that “booty was confiscated,” in reference to the looted objects from the trucks in the transit area.
With the takeover of the Nasib crossing, the Syrian government lost its last major crossing into Jordan, after rebels had taken control of the old customs “Jumrok Qadeem” crossing in October 2013.
The Nasib crossing is vital for the transportation of goods from Lebanon and Syria to Jordan and Gulf countries.
“It is a vital road ... ,” Hakim said. “It affects Syria and Jordan greatly, and not only Lebanon. But alternatives are available for us.”
After Wednesday’s events, most of the 370-km (230-mile) border between Jordan and Syria had fallen to the rebels.
The Observatory has been reporting that Syrian military aircraft had been bombing nearby areas since the loss of the crossing.
Minister Hakim said that shelling was occurring nearby, but denied that any Lebanese citizen had been harmed. The Observatory cited witnesses who said two people were killed in the strikes.