TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) - Gunmen kidnapped eight men from Syria’s Alawite minority as they crossed into northern Lebanon on Monday, residents and security sources said, in a bid to gain the release of a Sunni Muslim man believed to be held by Syrian forces.
Lebanon’s frontier has increasingly been drawn into violence from neighboring Syria’s civil war, now in its third year. Sectarian tensions have been on the rise in both countries, with Sunni Muslims in Lebanon supporting the largely Sunni revolt against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Residents of Lebanon’s northern border town of Wadi Khaled said gunmen attacked a bus carrying the men who came to Lebanon for work, beating the driver and kidnapping eight Alawites.
They said the gunmen would release their hostages when a Lebanese Sunni man named Mohammed Hussein al-Ahmad, who residents say is being held by Syrian forces, was freed.
Shi‘ites and other minorities have backed Assad, himself from the Alawite sect that is an offshoot of Shi‘ite Islam.
A security source said Lebanon’s armed forces sent patrols to the northern border area to look for the Syrian hostages.
The Lebanese-Syrian border has grown increasingly tense with battles raging close to the frontier. Syrian forces have threatened to increase shelling on Lebanon’s border areas due to the presence of rebel groups there.
Reporting by Nazih Siddiq; Editing by Sophie Hares