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One kidnapping in Syria prompts kidnapping of 20-plus in Lebanon

Tit-for-tat kidnappings have ratcheted up tensions between Lebanon's Shiites, who largely back the Assad regime, and pro-opposition Sunnis.

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Anti-Syrian regime protesters carry a giant Syrian revolutionary flag as they listen to Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, unseen, a hardline Sunni Lebanese cleric, as he gives a sermon in support of Syrian opposition fighters and its allies in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite militant group, in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 10.

Bilal Hussein/AP

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A series of tit-for-tat abductions this week of Shiite Lebanese and Sunni Syrians threatens to further undermine stability in Lebanon as the sectarian nature of the brutal conflict in Syria deepens and spreads.

Members of the Meqdad clan, a powerful Shiite tribe from the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, announced today that the the "military wing" of the family had abducted more than 20 Syrians in Lebanon whom they alleged were fighters with the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA). The Meqdads said that the abductions were in response to the kidnapping, allegedly by the FSA, of Hassan Selim Meqdad in Damascus at the beginning of the week. The FSA accused Hassan Meqdad of being a member of Lebanon's militant Shiite group Hezbollah, a strong supporter of the Assad regime. Hezbollah and the Meqdad family have denied the claims, with the latter saying that he was an employee of a Lebanese bank.

"The family's military wing kidnapped several Syrians. We are not afraid of anyone," said Maher "Abu Ali" Meqdad, speaking on behalf of the family at a press conference in the Bourj al-Barajneh suburb of southern Beirut.

The Meqdad clan does not have a formal armed faction, although some members of the family do serve with Hezbollah and, like all Bekaa Valley clans, they are fierecly independent, live by strict tribal codes of honor and solidarity, and scorn the authority of the Lebanese state. It would be a rare Meqdad who does not own at least one gun.

Maher Meqdad said that a captain and a wounded man were among the hostages. All of the alleged FSA men were kidnapped in north Lebanon. Tensions have been building for months in north Lebanon between Sunni Lebanese who support the uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Shiite Lebanese who back the Assad regime.

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