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HOUSE OF THE WEEK

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Syrians Kidnapped In Lebanon Amid Regional Tensions

ELEANOR HALL: The governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait are calling on their citizens to get out of Lebanon as the conflict in Syria spills over the border.

Shi'ite gunmen in Lebanon kidnapped more than 20 supporters of the Syrian opposition in retaliation for the capture of one of their kinsmen by opposition forces in Syria.

At the same time, the United Nations has handed down a report accusing both sides in the conflict of committing war crimes. 

Barney Porter has the latest.

BARNEY PORTER: Dozens of Syrians in Lebanon were kidnapped and their shops vandalised, in the latest sectarian violence to hit that nation.

Rioters also blocked the road to Beirut airport, prompting an Air France flight to be diverted.

The kidnappings were carried out by members of the Meqdad clan, one of Lebanon's most powerful Shi'ite families.

Spokesman, Maher al Meqdad, says they're in retaliation for the capture of a kinsman by the rebel Free Syrian Army in Damascus two days ago.

MAHER AL MEQDAD (translated): We assure everyone that in return for the freedom of our son we will free the kidnapped Syrians. We have a big number of them and we are saying this quite openly. 

BARNEY PORTER: The hostages include Syrians described as rebel fighters, a Saudi national, and Turkish businessman, Aydin Tufan Tekin.

He's told reporters he's being treated well.

AYDIN TUFAN TEKIN: They're bringing the coffee and fruit and everything, asking for the food and I am not being treated as a hostage, I'll be honest. 

Everything is fine because they're really taking care of me. 

BARNEY PORTER: Despite all the assurances the incident has renewed regional tensions over the fighting in Syria. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have all ordered their nationals to leave Lebanon immediately.


Earlier the Arab League had postponed Syria Talks.


In another development the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation has suspended Syria from the 57-member group, saying the violence must end. 

Meanwhile a new UN report accuses both sides of committing atrocities.

The UN investigators say Syrian government forces and their militia have committed war crimes, including the murder and torture of civilians, in what appears to be state-directed policy. 

They also say the rebels have committed war crimes, including executions but on a smaller scale than the regime forces.

The head of the UN commission is Paulo Pinheiro.

PAULO PINHEIRO: I think that it is most serious report I have presented since September. Why? Because there was escalation in military terms on both sides, them both sides are also committing war crimes.

BARNEY PORTER: Chris Phillips, from the Queen Mary University says the report may yet prove vital.

CHRIS PHILLIPS: If and when members of the Assad regime are taken to The Hague for the crimes that they've committed, this kind of report will be crucial, particularly the testimony that has been gathered from the victims and the relatives of the victims of this massacre. 

BARNEY PORTER: Paulo Pinheiro again.

PAULO PINHEIRO: To complement this very gloomy picture you have a humanitarian crisis. The hundreds of thousands of people that are being displaced internally and are refugee seekers in neighbouring countries. 

BARNEY PORTER: Andrew Harper is the UN's humanitarian representative in Jordan.

ANDREW HARPER: We've now got a situation where the camp has got some 7,000 people so despite the dust, despite the hardships, despite the lack of resources we're still seeing hundreds of Syrians coming across every day. 

BARNEY PORTER: The UN's humanitarian chief Baroness Amos is in Damascus, pressing the Assad regime for aid agencies to have greater access to civilians caught up in the fighting in Syria.

BARONESS AMOS: In the places where the fighting is still going on it's ordinary men, women and children who are caught up in the middle of that and who are feeling the full brunt of this. And I made it clear to the government and I'll repeat my call on all parties who are involved in this conflict that the fighting has got to stop. 

BARNEY PORTER: Everyone seems to agree on that point but not on how to do it.


Edited By Cen Fox Post Team
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