Pilgrims, lovers’ fig raise Beirut tensions
BEIRUT / DAMASCUS
Lebanese security forces take position as they storm a building in Beirut’s Caracas district. AFP PhotoA Syrian Islamist cleric said on that he was mediating the release of Lebanese Shi’ite men whose kidnapping in Syria triggered protests in Shi’ite areas of Beirut and raised fears it could ignite sectarian conflict in Lebanon. A gunbattle also broke out in the Caracas district of west Beirut, stoking fears the situation in the country may take a turn for the worse.
“They are well and safe, we are trying to secure their release, but the Syrian army shelling of the area has been blocking it so far,” Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zoaby, head of the Free People of Syria group, told Reuters.
The hostages were among a group of pilgrims returning to Lebanon from Iran when gunmen stopped their bus after it crossed into Syria from Turkey on May 22. Some of those released said the gunmen were from the Free Syrian Army (FSA). It denied any connection to the kidnapping. FSA said it is making “every effort” to locate and release pilgrims. With tension running high in Lebanon, an explosive, eight-hour shootout in west Beirut that apparently erupted after a domestic dispute killed at least two people early yesterday, including a gunman who was firing machine guns and lobbing grenades from his balcony. The shootout comes at a time of heightened tensions in Lebanon, where deadly clashes linked to the conflict in Syria have killed at least 10 people in the past two weeks.
An officer and four soldiers were wounded in the gun battle, which began May 23 night in the residential Caracas neighborhood, the army said in statement. Residents and police officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the shooting started with a personal dispute between a couple.
According to residents in the area, one of the gunmen was distraught because his girlfriend was breaking up with him, the Associated Press reported. The girlfriend was believed to have escaped.
Violence in Syria
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a total of at least 14 people were killed across the country, including the four executed in Idlib.