Five Gulf countries have started evacuating their citizens from Lebanon after Shiite gunmen kidnapped Syrian nationals in retaliation to the abduction of one of its members in Syria.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar on Thursday started to evacuate their citizens from Lebanon after Lebanese Shiite gunmen took more then 50 Syrians and a Turkish man hostage in the capital Beirut and the eastern Bekka Valley.
Lebanon's National News Agency reported that the Shiite Meqdad clan had said the hostage-takings were to avenge the abduction in Syria of a clan member, who is being held by rebels fighting to depose President Bashar Assad.
"More kidnappings are to come. We will start kidnapping Arab nationals whose countries are backing the rebels, if our brother Hassan is not released," clan spokesman Hatem al-Meqdad told the German news agency dpa.
Officials at Beirut airport confirmed each of the five countries had sent aircraft to Lebanon to fly nationals home, adding that many Arab nationals had spent the night at the airport to catch flights out of the country.
The abductions raise concerns the Syrian civil war has spilled across the border into Lebanon, which like Syria, is divided along sectarian lines.
Tensions in the country prompted Air France on Wednesday to divert to Cyprus a flight from Paris to Beirut after armed Shiite protestors blocked the roadway to Beirut's international airport with burning tyres.
jlw/mz, ipj (dpad, Reuters)