A large Lebanese Shia clan said its military wing has kidnapped at least 20 members of the Free Syrian Army in Lebanon in order to secure the release of a family member kidnapped near Damascus this week.
"They were kidnapped because a member of our family was taken the day before yesterday in Syria," family member Abu Ali al-Meqdad said by telephone on Wednesday, adding that one of the Syrians was injured.
According to Arab television reports, a Syrian rebel group claimed it had kidnapped Hassan al-Meqdad on Monday, accusing him of being a sniper and a member of Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah.
"He is neither a sniper nor a member of Hezbollah," Abu Ali said. "All the accusations are a lie... our demand is not political, this is a humanitarian issue," he added.
Hezbollah came out on Tuesday and denied al-Meqdad was a member of the party.
The Meqdad family also said they kidnapped a Turkish national by the name of Soufan in the southern suburbs of Beirut, alleging he is a diplomat working with the FSA.
"We do not take part in any harassment of innocent Syrians, but any supporter of the Free Syrian Army is a legitimate target for us," Hatem al-Muqdad told Lebanese television station LBC.
The family said it would also hold Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey responsible for the kidnapping of their relative. All three countries support rebel groups in Syria.
Saudi Arabia ordered its citizens to leave Lebanon "immediately", the state news agency reported in an SMS alert on Wednesday.
Lebanese television station Al-Mayadeen ran an interview with a member of the Meqdad clan who threatened "further action until Hassan is freed. All Syrians in Lebanon are a legitimate target".
The television channel also broadcast a video of two of those purportedly kidnapped, surrounded by armed men.
According to local media reports, Abu Ali also said that the Meqdad family was working closely with other families in the region, and would reveal a 'big catch' on Thursday.
An unnamed high-ranking security official said he had no immediate comment on the matter. "We are working on it," he said.
Ahmed Shlash, a Syrian MP currently in Lebanon to negotiate their release, told Al-Mayadeen: "Syrians coming to work in Lebanon should not be dragged into a sectarian struggle. Young people coming to work in Lebanon have nothing to do
Violence in neighbouring Syria has spilled over into Lebanon in the form of cross-border shootings, shelling by the Syrian army, tit-for-tat kidnappings and sectarian clashes between groups which are divided over the revolt.
Syrian rebel groups have frequently accused Hezbollah, which is closely allied with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, of interfering in the violence, though the group has consistently denied this.
Syria occupied Lebanon militarily and politically for nearly three decades until 2005, when its troops were forced to pull out under international pressure after the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri that year.
Seven years after Syria withdrew from Lebanon, the country's political forces remain sharply divided over their neighbour.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|