BEIRUT (AP) — The families of 11 Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria blocked the highway leading to Beirut airport for several hours Monday to protest the Lebanese government's failure to secure their release.
The Shiite pilgrims were abducted May 22 after crossing into Syria from Turkey on their way to Lebanon. A previously unheard of group calling itself "Syrian Rebels in Aleppo" claimed responsibility, saying five of the hostages were members of the militant Lebanese Hezbollah group. The group and their families deny that.
The group demanded that the Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, apologize for recent comments in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Nasrallah, an ally of Syria's regime, has said the kidnapping would not change his group's stance.
Travelers heading to the airport Monday had to walk with their luggage about a kilometer (half a mile) to the airport because of the demonstration blocking the road for three hours.
The case of the 11 abducted pilgrims is potentially explosive, in part because it disturbs Lebanon's fragile Sunni-Shiite fault line. The kidnapping has already sparked retaliatory attacks against thousands of Syrians in Lebanon.
Hezbollah is a staunch ally of the Syrian regime, where a predominantly Sunni uprising is trying to oust the Assad family dynasty, which belongs to an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The families of the kidnapped Shiites blame Syria's Sunni rebels for abducting the men.
The Syria crisis has spilled across the border into Lebanon over the past weeks, sparking deadly violence in a country that remains deeply divided over the uprising next door.