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Saudis, Qataris Urged to Leave Lebanon as Threats Grow

Gulf Citizens Urged to Leave Lebanon as Syria Unrest Spills Over
Lebanese masked gunmen from the al-Muqdad clan in Beirut's southern suburbs on August 15, 2012. Source: AFP/Getty Images

Persian Gulf citizens were urged to leave Lebanon after kidnapping threats were made against them following the abduction of a Lebanese man in Syria, raising concern that the Syrian crisis was spilling across borders.

In New York, the United Nations Security Council agreed not to renew the mandate for the observer mission in Syria and the operation will “fade out” beginning Aug. 19, French Ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud said. The council endorsed a plan by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to open a small political liaison office in Damascus to prepare for what follows the Syrian regime headed by President Bashar al-Assad.

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Beirut and the United Arab Emirates Foreign Ministry undersecretary said their countries’ nationals should leave Lebanon immediately, as did Qatar and Bahrain. Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry issued a similar warning “in anticipation of a spillover from the Syrian crisis,” the state news agency KUNA reported.

The calls came after the Meqdad clan, an extended family that belongs mostly to Lebanon’s Muslim Shiite community, kidnapped 20 Syrians in retaliation for the abduction of one of its members in Syria, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation reported, citing a family spokesman. The clan also seized a Turkish national in Lebanon and the spokesman, who wasn’t named, threatened to capture Saudis and Qataris, LBC said.

Hajj Maher Meqdad, the secretary general of the Meqdad Family League, later pledged not to attack anyone else from the Persian Gulf, Lebanon’s official National News Agency reported.

‘Sufficient Number’

Meqdad said the clan had halted all “military operations as they caught a sufficient number of Free Syrian Army supporters as well as a Turkish citizen,” the news agency said.

Turkey and Gulf states including Saudi Arabia and Qatar have backed the opposition against Assad’s government, where fighting has taken on an increasingly sectarian character. Many rebels are Sunni Muslims, while the government is dominated by members of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation early today suspended Syria from the 57-nation group, with OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu saying the move signals that the world needs to intervene in Syria.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said the OIC’s decision “violates” the organization’s charter because decisions should be taken unanimously and in this case many countries opposed it, Syria’s state television said.

The Local Coordination Committees in Syria said in an e-mail that 158 people were killed across Syria today, including 60 unidentified people in the Damascus suburb of Qatana and 50 in Aleppo.

Humanitarian Needs

United Nations humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos told journalists in Damascus today that more than a million people have been uprooted and another million have “urgent humanitarian needs due to the widening impact of the crisis on the economy and people’s livelihoods.” The Saudi government will build 2,500 housing units for Syrian refugees in Jordan, the Saudi Press Agency reported today.

The UN Security Council action reflects the limitation on movements by observers amid the violence in Syria and the failure of the mediation efforts of Kofi Annan, who resigned Aug. 2 as joint special envoy for the UN and Arab League.

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin faulted countries that he said “did not really show a commitment to ending hostilities,” a reference to the U.S., France and Britain, which supported ending the UN mission. Churkin said Russia will convene a meeting of the so-called Syria Action Group tomorrow in New York.

Churkin said the group will continue to press for implementation of Annan’s six-point peace plan. The group, which was established by Annan, includes Russia, the U.S., the U.K., France, China, Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, and Qatar.

New Office

“There was a general feeling that the conditions to continue Unsmis were not fulfilled,” Araud said after a Security Council meeting, referring to the UN observer mission’s acronym.

The new UN office will have 20 to 30 people, and include political, military, humanitarian and human-rights advisers, as well as a de-mining unit, said Edmond Mulet, the UN’s assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping. There were as many as 300 unarmed peacekeepers in the now-discontinued observer mission.

The unarmed UN observers were unable to halt the fighting that has claimed over 17,000 lives since uprising began in Syria last year.

Violence ‘Spillover’

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. supports a smaller UN presence in Syria that could help support humanitarian aid. The U.S. is concerned by the “spillover” of Syrian violence into Lebanon, she told reporters.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman said he had information that 11 other Shiite Lebanese abducted by rebels in May in Syria were alive, the National News Agency reported. Prime Minister Najib Mikati told reporters that the situation in the country was “difficult,” adding that there are efforts to resolve the issue of the hostages, the agency said.

The road leading to Beirut’s international airport was reopened after overnight riots by the families of Lebanese being held in Syria, according to the National News Agency. The protesters had burned tires to block the road. Soldiers were deployed on the road to secure it, it said. Mikati said today that the “airport road will not be closed again,” according to the agency.

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