Agence France-Presse

Syrian rebel group claims kidnap of Lebanese Shia pilgrims

A road is blocked by burning tires after Lebanese Sunni cleric Ahmad Abdel Wahed was shot dead by Lebanese army troops when his convoy failed to stop at a checkpoint in the northern Lebanese town of Halba on May 20, 2012.

A group of Syrian rebels claim to be holding a group of Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims kidnapped on May 22, and say they will only free them if Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah issues an apology for comments made during a recent speech.

In a statement received by Al Jazeera, the previously unknown group – which calls itself the “Syrian Revolutionaries – Aleppo Province” – said:

“The kidnapped Lebanese are being looked after us and are in good health. Negotiations for their release are possible as soon as Nasrallah apologizes… our problem is not with any particular community but with those who assist in the suppression of the uprising.”

The group did not provide any further details regarding the elements of Nasrallah’s speech that angered them.

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According to Reuters, about a dozen Lebanese men were kidnapped by gunmen earlier this month while travelling by bus in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo, a stronghold of the mainly Sunni Muslim opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s Shi’ite regime.

Residents from Beirut’s southern Shi’ite suburbs, an area under Hezbollah control where the hostages come from, blocked roads with burning tires once informed of their capture, but Nasrallah, while appealing for calm and warning against reprisal attacks on Lebanese Sunni Muslims, said the abduction would not alter his movement’s allegiances to Assad’s regime in Syria.

According to The Financial Times, Lebanon’s Hezbollah-backed government has stepped up its efforts to secure the hostages’ release after an expected handover last week failed to take place, with Beirut appealing to international backers of Syria’s opposition such as Turkey and Qatar to press for their freedom.

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