A powerful Lebanese Shiite family, the Al Meqdad clan, has abducted a group of Syrians and one Turkish national, in response to the kidnapping of one of its family members by rebels in Syria. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) claims that the man was an operative of Hezbollah, Lebanon's Shiite militia and party allied to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Meqdads have vowed more kidnappings targeting pro-opposition Syrians residing in Lebanon, threatening to kill the Turkish hostage if their relative in Syria was hurt. The clan has also threatened to snatch any Turkish national right at Beirut's airport, prompting Air France to divert its flight from Beirut to - Damascus, of all places (read the full story).
Over the past few weeks, the FSA has stepped up a campaign targeting Iranians and Lebanese Shiites suspected of aiding the Syrian regime, and it was only a matter of time when someone on the other side of the border would hit back.
It's looks like another step closer to the brink for Lebanon, which is split almost evenly between the allies and opponents of the Syrian regime. It comes after clashes between Sunnis and Alawites in Lebanon's north, kidnappings of Shiite pilgrims in Syria (see my previous blog post), and, most recently, an arrest of a prominent Lebanese pro-Assad politician accused of plotting terrorist attacks with the help of Syrian intelligence services.
But there's one important caveat that keeps the powder keg from exploding, for now. Hezbollah, the most powerful armed force in Lebanon, has been acting with notable restraint. Although it backs Assad in public, it seems determined not to be dragged into a proxy Syrian war on Lebanese soil. As a governing party in Lebanon, they have too much to lose from a fresh outbreak of violence.
I'd expect them to try to secure a mutual release of the hostages and diffuse the tension. That is unless someone decides to target Hezbollah directly.
Read more on why the Syrian uprising is such a threat to peace in Lebanon.
Photo by Salah Malkawi / Getty Images.