So al-Mustaqbal (Harir’s Future Movement) are playing the “Oh no we di’int , oh yes we did” game. After years of denying they were armed, the commander of their militia has now admitted to the existence of a militia—“the Mustaqbal Supporters”— which fought Hizbullah in the May 2008 clashes and its latest incarnation, the “Awfaj al Mustaqbal” (Mustaqbal Regiments) . According to their military chief, retired Lebanese army colonel, Amid Hammoud, former Prime Minister and head of the Future Movement, Saad al-Hariri, had asked him to submit a proposal to improve the performance of his militia after its humiliating defeat in 2008.
In his first media interview, Hammoud admitted to Akhbar (the Arabic version) that he is arming “the Sunni sect to confront Hizbullah,” which he accuses of destabilizing the country with assassinations and bombings. He acknowledges that his movement and the Syrian “revolutionaries” are on the same battlefront against Hizbullah.
Although Hammoud is quite equivocal and self-contradictory in the rest of the interview he admits the following (which I have translated and paraphrased):
1)Although Sunni fighters in Tripoli are not “his”, he wields influence over them and provides them with funding with which they purchase arms.
2)Although he doesn’t deploy his men to Syria to fight alongside the FSA, he strongly supports the Syrian “revolutionaries” and helps Syrian fighters escape, receive shelter, medical treatment etc. He also admits to giving funds to Syrians, “even if it is for the purpose of purchasing weapons”. And although he doesn’t distribute weapons, he directs them to arms dealers from whom they can purchase them. He admits that “tens” of Syrians came to him for assistance in smuggling weapons into Syria by sea. While denying he has gone to Syria, he says he would consider it in the future since he sees himself as “an inextricable part of the Syrian revolution”. While claiming he went to Libya to congratulate the “revolutionaries” there, rather than to procure weapons for the FSA, he insinuates that he would not hesitate to do so if need so required.
3)Regarding the recent clashes in Beirut, Hammoud argues that he doesn’t have “armed fighters as such” but has “youths” deployed there. Although he distributed weapons in the 2008 clashes, he claims he did not do so again.
4)Hammoud blames Israel for Wissam Hassan’s assassination but paradoxically also holds Hizbullah responsible for his killing because Hizbullah’s security apparatus cannot be separated from the Syrian regime’s, and because it has been “infiltrated internationally [by the CIA] and by Israel.
So there you have it, a sometimes explicit and other times veiled acknowledgment of Hariri’s complicity in the Syrian conflict and in the recent attack on the Lebanese army and security forces. This is the same political force that the West lauds for its “state building” project, and its noble pursuit of justice, freedom and democracy, against authoritarianism and terror. This is the same movement which western mainstream media refuses to associate with the recent clashes, the terrorizing of civilians at checkpoints and general instability, preferring instead, to attribute the violence to unknown “Sunni gunmen” rather than to Hariri’s sectarian militia.
A case in point is this New York Times piece which not only uses the “masked Sunni gunmen” euphemism, but attempts to misrepresent the clashes in Beirut which occured between the army and the Hariri militia, among other Sunni militias, as sectarian clashes between Sunnis and Shi’ites which the army tried to end, by claiming:
“Gun battles broke out in Tariq Jdeideh, a neighborhood where Sunni and Shiite militiamen clash regularly, in the early hours of Monday.”
The double-standards of mainstream media’s coverage of Lebanon has reached a new low. If Shi’ites unaffiliated with Hizbullah had been involved in the clashes, western journalists would not have hesitated to refer to them as “Hizbullah militiamen”, even if they had belonged to the AMAL movement or some other force. And if those Shiites had been attacking the army and the ISF, as well the Hariri militia, the media narrative would have excluded any mention of the latter and the violence would have been described solely as an attack on the “Lebanese state.”
What is lost in all this, is that contrary to its more “democratic” counter-part, Hizbullah, has never been involved in any attacks or clashes with Lebanese state institutions; only with March 14 militias in May 2008. And it was the Lebanese Army, serving under a March 14 government at the time, which attempted to disarm these militias. In effect, it is not Hizbullah’s resistance, which cooperates with the Lebanese Army, that is undermining the state’s monopoly on the use of force, but March 14’s sectarian militias.
Some historical context to the Miqdad clan’s abduction of over 20 Syrian FSA fighters: If the AMAL movement was a response to the state’s negligence of South Lebanon on the economic and security levels, and Hizbullah was a reaction to Israel’s invasion and occupation of Lebanon in 1982, then Moqdadism is surely an expression of Shi’ite rage and frustration today; rage at the FSA’s kidnapping of Lebanese Shi’ites, frustration at the government’s inability to release the captives or to curb Sunni sectarian violence in Lebanon and the rise of takfiri jihadi groups; anger at the state’s war on hashish cultivation in the Bekaa and the resultant impoverishment of the region and its inhabitants; wrath against March 14 politicians who have abetted the FSA and other militants in infiltrating men and weapons into Lebanon, and for for stoking the seeds of sectarian warfare.
While Hizbullah’s hands have been tied due to sectarian sensitivities, Shi’ite tribes and clans in the Bekaa are clearly not constrained by similar considerations. Hizbullah has only limited influence over these families—numbering in the tens of thousands—who are accustomed to taking justice into their own hands. But by kidnapping foreign fighters, diplomats and others, they have unwittingly become regional players and a clearly significant force that the Syrian opposition and its Saudi, Qatari and Turkish backers have to contend with from now on.
I don’t understand the logic of those who see the Syrian government’s war against proxy forces as a bid to “hold on to power”. Yes, the stamping out of protests at the beginning of the uprising was precisely that but how can the conflict still be seen through the lens of regime survival and not the survival of Syria as a nation-state? How can anyone not understand that even if this was the most brutal and corrupt regime on earth which is only pursuing its survival, those fighting and dying on behalf of it are resisting the most blatant form of NATO/GCC military intervention? I am not denying there is also a sectarian civil war which has assumed its own dynamic, and which Alawites have been dragged into, but the Syrian Army’s war is to some extent a war of liberation from these agents of the Empire and Israel— a war that seeks to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and regain its sovereignty from the colonizers’ grip. The fact that the larger part of the rebels are Syrian, and that some of these groups have their own agendas which merely “intersect” with NATO/GCC/Israel’s agendas, doesn’t detract from the liberationist thrust of this war. Whether wittingly or not, these armed groups are doing NATO’s and Israel’s dirty work and sparing them a messy invasion.
To all intents and purposes, this is an Empire-Israel backed insurrection and hence a NATO proxy war on Syria, regardless of the nationality of the proxies. Even Kofi Annan and Ban Ki Moon have referred to the war in Syria as an international “proxy war”. As such, there are no “defectors” in this war, only traitors.
Even siding with the homegrown opposition has become practically useless and in some cases, morally problematic as it has renounced dialogue with the government and rejects any power-sharing formula, while some of its once respected members like Michel Kilo have called for securing Syria’s borders with Israel.
None of this is to say that the military solution is the only solution. It isn’t and can never be. But it appears that an end to this war will require a comprehensive regional agreement between the great powers which will either come about as a result of a wider regional war involving Syria, Israel, Iran and Hizbullah, or as a result of a crushing defeat of the rebels. The latter will be impossible to achieve in the context of a sectarian civil war that also features the irrepressible force of salafist jihadis. Any agreement that is brokered will have to include the same groups the government is currently fighting—Hizbullah’s coexistence with March 14 collaborators who urged Israel to continue bombing Lebanon is a case in point. And this is the best case scenario.
I have noticed a recent and very disturbing trend on twitter among supporters of the Syrian opposition whereby they ignore mainstream media (yes, their own media) accounts of events that contradict their own narrative. In so doing, they brazenly distort and falsify reality despite a media consensus on these events.
Last week alone, these tweeps claimed that the 17 Palestinians in Syria who were killed by Syrian rebels, were in fact murdered and tortured by Assad’s forces. Separately, they have been repeating—despite the UN’s premilimary report on the issue—that those killed in Treimseh were civilians.
This despite this AFP report here which quotes a SANA interview with the head of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA)— a battalion in the Syrian army— who condemned the kidnapping and killing of 17 of his troops by “armed terrorist groups” in northern Syria. HAMAS subsequently condemned the killings as reported by AFP and Al-Akhbar here: ”The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas issued a strongly worded statement on Thursday condemning “the ugly killing of 17 PLA soldiers” by suspected rebels in Syria.”
The second story regarding the violence in Treimseh has now been clarified by the UN investigation’s report as a battle between two warring parties rather than a massacre of civilians. As reported by the NY Times:
New details emerging Saturday about what local Syrian activists called a massacre of civilians near the central city of Hama indicated that it was more likely an uneven clash between the heavily armed Syrian military and local fighters bearing light weapons.
Their initial report said the attack appeared to target “specific groups and houses, mainly of army defectors and activists,” Ms. Ghosheh said in a statement. It said a range of weapons had been used, including artillery, mortars and small arms.
Although what actually happened in Tremseh remains murky, the evidence available suggested that events on Thursday more closely followed the Syrian government account.
The picture emerging is that there was a large group of fighters from the town and the local area bivouacked in Tremseh. The Syrian Army moved in early Thursday, blocking all exits and blasting away with machine guns, tank shells and rockets fired from helicopters, laying waste to the town.
“Whenever the Syrian Army knows there are fighters concentrated in an area, they attack,” said the leader of the Observatory, who goes by the pseudonym Rami Abdul-Rahman for safety reasons. “The majority of people killed in Tremseh were either rebel fighters from the village or from surrounding villages.”
Zionist collaborationist FSA thugs massacre Palestinian fighters in Syria, as reported by Akhbar here. Ironic that Hamas is condemning the side it has [indirectly] aligned itself with:
The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas issued a strongly worded statement on Thursday condemning “the ugly killing of 17 PLA soldiers” by suspected rebels in Syria.
The head of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) in Syria condemned on Thursday the kidnapping and killing of 17 of his troops by “armed terrorist groups,” state news agency SANA reported.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Wednesday that the bodies of 13 PLA soldiers had been found after they were kidnapped days earlier while en route to Aleppo in northern Syria.
The PLA is a battalion in the Syrian army, although it is made up of Palestinians living in Syria and who are conscripted to the armed forces.
PLA chief of staff Major General Mohammad Tareq al-Khadraa told SANA: “The fact that the armed terrorist groups kidnapped and killed 17 troops from the Palestinian Liberation Army in Syria proves the criminal, dirty role that these groups play and their links to Western and Zionist agendas.”
He added that the men were “tortured and abused,” that “they were unarmed, and that they were on their way to visit their families on holiday.”
Images of the massacre show messages scrawled on the bodies of the Palestinian men, reportedly left by armed opposition fighters.
It is unclear why the armed militiamen attacked the Palestinians, who have largely kept out of the Syrian uprising since it began in March 2011.
Khadraa called the men martyrs who “gave their lives in an offering to the liberation of Palestine.”
It called the killings “a racist, cowardly act that targets the presence of Palestinians in Syria as guests who do not interfere in internal issues.”
Hamas had its political headquarters in Damascus until the uprising began, when it sought to move its operations elsewhere due to the deteriorating security situation.
Roughly 470,000 Palestinian refugees live in Syria.
(AP) — Gunmen raided the headquarters of a pro-government Syrian TV station early Wednesday, demolishing the building and killing three employees, the state media reported. Officials denounced what they called a rebel “massacre against the freedom of the press.”
SANA added that the attack on Ikhbariya TV occurred in the town of Drousha, about 20 kilometers (14 miles) south of the capital Damascus. Hours after the attack, the station was still on the air broadcasting its programs.
Ikhbariya is privately-owned but strongly supports President Bashar Assad’s regime. Pro-government journalists have been targeted on several previous occasions during the 15-month uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime, although such incidents are comparatively rare.
Earlier this month, two Ikhbariya employees were shot and seriously wounded by gunmen in the northwestern town of Haffa while covering clashes between government troops and insurgents.
Rebels deny they target the media. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the raid and the deaths of several employees, but had no other information.
Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi told reporters outside the station that gunmen stormed the compound, placed explosives and then detonated them.
“What happened today is a massacre, a massacre against the freedom of the press,” al-Zoebi said in comments broadcast on state-run Syrian TV. “They carried out a terrifying massacre by executing the employees.”
An employee at the station said several other employees were wounded in the attack and other guards were kidnapped when the gunmen attacked just before 4 a.m. local time.
The employee, who did not give his name for fear of repercussions, said the gunmen drove him about 200 meters (yards) away, and then he heard the explosion of the station being demolished. “I was terrified when they blindfolded me and took me away,” the man said by telephone.
State-run Syrian TV showed a demolished structure without a ceiling, saying it was the station’s main studio. It also showed what it said were tapes on fire amid piles of debris.
And the sad part is that the supporters of the Syrian “revolution” and Third-Wayers will still refuse to see how their position serves Empire after reading reports like these. In fact, for many of them, especially those in the first category, Empire is no longer the principal enemy if at all.
“By helping to vet rebel groups, American intelligence operatives in Turkey hope to learn more about a growing, changing opposition network inside of Syria and to establish new ties. “C.I.A. officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people,” said one Arab intelligence official who is briefed regularly by American counterparts.
American officials and retired C.I.A. officials said the administration was also weighing additional assistance to rebels, like providing satellite imagery and other detailed intelligence on Syrian troop locations and movements. The administration is also considering whether to help the opposition set up a rudimentary intelligence service. But no decisions have been made on those measures or even more aggressive steps, like sending C.I.A. officers into Syria itself, they said.
What has changed since March is an influx of weapons and ammunition to the rebels. The increasingly fierce air and artillery assaults by the government are intended to counter improved coordination, tactics and weaponry among the opposition forces, according to members of the Syrian National Council and other activists.Last month, these activists said, Turkish Army vehicles delivered antitank weaponry to the border, where it was then smuggled into Syria.”
“A well regarded and qualified author of the prime German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reported (in German) how the recent massacre in Houla, Syria, was perpetrated by Sunni rebel forces. I translated the piece to English. There was some push back against the piece and an anonymous rebuttal from Houla activists.
In a new piece (in German) the reporter, Rainer Hermann, extends on the first one and explains why his reporting is correct and why other reporting was terribly wrong.
What follows is my translation of the FAZ piece:
The Houla massacre was a turning point in the Syrian drama. There was great worldwide outrage when 108 people were killed there on May 25, among them 49 children. Calls for a military intervention to end the bloodshed became louder and the violence in Syria has since steadily escalated. Based on Arab news channel and the visit of UN observers on the following day, world opinion almost unanimously blamed the regular Syrian army and the Syrian regime’s Shabiha militia for the massacre.
In the past week and based on reports from eyewitnesses the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung put this version into question. It reported that the civilians killed were Alawites and Shiites. They were deliberately killed by armed Sunnis in Taldou, a town in the plains of Houla, while fierce fighting between the regular army and Free Syrian Army was taking place at checkpoints around the village. Our report was taken up by many media outlets worldwide and was rejected by many as implausible. We have therefore to ask four questions: Why did the world opinion so far followed a different version? Why does the context of the civil war makes the doubted version plausible? Why are the witnesses credible? What other facts support the report?
Firstly, why world opinion follow a different version? It is undoubted that during the first months of the conflict, when the opposition did not yet possess weapons and was defenseless, all atrocities were done by the regime. The assumption is therefore obvious that this would continue. [Note by the translator: Here Mr. Hermann errs. There were reliablereports about deadly attacks against government forces by well armed perpetrators, allegedly foreign financed, as early as April 10 2011.] Furthermore, the Syrian state media enjoy no credibility. They use the standard labeling “armed terrorist gangs” since the beginning of the conflict. Thus no one believes them, when that is indeed the case. Two media outlets, the Arab news channel Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya have become key sources even as their owners, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are two states which are actively involved in the conflict. Not without reason do we know the saying “In war, truth dies first.”
Secondly, why is, in the context of the civil war, the doubted version plausible? During recent month many weapons have been smuggled into Syria and the rebels have long had mid-sized weaponry. Every day more than 100 people are killed in Syria with about equal numbers of dead on both sides. The militias that operate under the banner of the Free Syrian Army control wide parts of the provinces of Homs and Idlib and extend their dominion over other parts of the country. The increasing lawlessness has led to a wave of criminal kidnappings and also facilitates the settling of old disputes. If one looks through Facebook pages or talks to Syrians: Everyone knows everyday stories of “religious cleansing” - of people being killed just because they are Alawite or Sunni.
The plain of Houla, which lies between the Sunni city of Homs and the mountains of the Alawites, is predominantly inhabited by Sunnis and is burdened by a long history of sectarian tensions. The massacre took place in Taldou, one of the largest sites of Houla. Of the names of civilians killed, 84 are known. These are the fathers, mothers and 49 children of the family Al Sayyid and two branches of the family Abdarrazzaq. Residents of the city state that these were Alawites and Muslims who had converted from Sunni to Shia Islam. A few kilometers away from the border with Lebanon, this made them suspect of being sympathizers of Hezbollah, detested among Sunnis. Additionally killed in Taldou were relatives of the government loyal member of parliament Abdalmuti Mashlab.
The homes of the three families are located in different parts Taldous. The members of the families were targeted and killed up to one exception. No neighbor was injured. Local knowledge was a prerequisite for these well-planned “executions”. The AP news agency quoted the only survivor of the family Al Sayyid, the eleven year old Ali, as saying:. “The perpetrators were shaved bald and had long beards.” This is the look of fanatical jihadists, not of the Shabiha militia. The boy said he survived because he had pretended to be dead and smeared himself with the blood of his mother.
On April 1 the nun Agnès-Maryam, from the monastery of Jacob (“Deir Mar Yakub”) which lies south of Homs in the village of Qara, described in a long open letter the climate of violence and fear in the region. She comes to the conclusion that the Sunni insurgents operate a stepwise liquidation of all minorities. She describes the expulsion of Christians and Alawites from their homes, which are then occupied by the rebels, and the rape of young girls, who the rebels pass off as “war booty”; she was an eye witness when the rebels killed a businessman in the street of Wadi Sajjeh with a car bomb after he refused to close his shop and then said in front of a camera from Al Jazeera that the regime had committed the crime. Finally she describes how Sunni insurgents in the Khalidijah district of Homs locked Alawite and Christian hostages into a house and blew it up only to then explain that this was an atrocity of the regime.
Why are, in this context, the Syrian witnesses (in my report) regarded as credible? Because they do not belong to any party of the conflict, but are caught in the middle and have no other interest than to stop a further escalation of violence. Several such people have already been killed. Therefore, no one wants to reveal their identity. In a period in which an independent review of all facts on the spot is not possible there can be no certitude that all details have happened exactly as described. Even as the massacre in Houla took place in the version described here, no conclusions can be drawn from it for other atrocities. As before in Kosovo every massacre must be examined individually after this war.
What other facts support this version? The FAZ was not the first to reported on a new version of the massacre of Houla. Other reports could just not compete with the big key media. The Russian journalist Marat Musin, who works for the small news agency Anna, was in Houla on May 25 and 26, in part became an eyewitness and also published the statements of other eyewitnesses. Additionally the Dutch Arabist and freelance journalist Martin Janssen, who lives in Damascus, contacted the Jacob Monastery in Qara, which has taken in many victims of the conflict with the nuns doing devote humanitarian work, after the massacre.
Sunni rebels perpetrate “liquidation” of all minorities
The nuns told him how on that May 25th more than 700 armed rebels, coming from Rastan, overran a roadside checkpoint of the army near Taldou, how these, after the massacre, piled up the corpses of the killed soldiers and civilians in front of the mosque and how they, on next day, told their version of the alleged massacre by the Syrian army in front of the cameras of rebel-friendly channels and to the UN observers. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced on May 26 at the UN Security Council that the exact circumstances are unclear. The UN could confirm, however, “that there has been artillery and mortar attack. There were also other forms of violence, including shots from up close and serious abuses.”
The following sequence of events can be reconstructed: After the Friday prayers on May 25th more than 700 gunmen under the leadership of Abdurrazzaq Tlass and Yahya Yusuf came in three groups from Rastan, Kafr Laha and Akraba and attacked three army checkpoints around Taldou. The numerically superior rebels and the (mostly also Sunni) soldiers fought bloody battles in which two dozen soldiers, mostly conscripts, were killed. During and after the fighting the rebels, supported by residents of Taldou, snuffed out the families of Sayyid and Abdarrazzaq. They had refused to join the opposition.”
Enjoy your sectarian, Israel-serving revolution: Syrian rebels in Aleppo province said in a statement that Lebanese Shiite hostages were with them… They also said negotiations to release them could start only after Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, apologises for a speech in which he told the kidnappers that the incident would not change his group’s stance on the unrest in Syria.
VERY IMPORTANT piece that raises some excellent questions about investigations into Houla massacre. Some excerpts:
The Houla massacre is to be brought to a rare gathering of the UN Human Rights Council. But what kind of findings will the council be presented? Anti-war campaigner Marinella Corregia is concerned UN observers only question opposition activists. Marinella Corregia called the Council spokesman, Rupert Colville, to get some answers. This is the conversation they had as reported by the peace activist: Marinella Corregia: Who spoke with the local people you quote? The UN observers? Rupert Colville: The UN observers are another body. MC: So which witness sources do you have and how did you speak with them? RC: Our local network, whom we spoke on the phone. I cannot say more; I have to protect them MC: How could they recognize that the killers were Shabbiya? Weren’t their faces covered? RC: Our local contacts in Syria say they were Shabbiya. Try to be less cynical. But who are these contacts? Corregia says that so far the UN Council on Human Rights used reports made up by their own commission of three envoys, working independently from UN monitors. The commission has never set foot on Syrian soil; their sources, as listed by the anti-war campaigner, appear to be: “the opposition groups [the UN Human Rights Council] spoke to on the phone; the opposition they met in Turkey; and other ‘activists’ they met in Geneva.” “Who talked to the residents, since the UN Human Rights Council is in Geneva? Are they true residents or the ones like the face-covered lady interviewed by Al Jazeera? The ‘survivor’ in question says she was hiding as her children were being slaughtered – how is it possible that a mother hides at a moment like this?” “How was it possible that immediately after “Shabbiya” and the “army’s artillery” accomplished the massacre people were not afraid to collect bodies, film them and then send the video to international media?” “How could survivors identify Shabbiya militia if they say killers were masked? By ‘green military dress’?” “Why does a video show that some dead children have their hands tied? Did the killers take time to tie the hands of the children before killing them? Or were the hands tied later by those who filmed the massacre in order to call for more blame if possible?” “Why in one of the videos, showing the ‘government’ shelling, are people escaping carrying Syria’s flag, not the opposition’s one?” “Is it true, as some sources say, that the majority of the people who were killed came from Alawites pro-government families or neutral Sunnis and some others from the opposition? Is it also true that the people were shouting pro-Assad slogans?”
First part understatement, second part just plain hilarious: “The Syrian opposition has plans to take control of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons depots and secure them in the first hours after the regime collapses, a senior figure in the opposition told Haaretz. The opposition leader, a former senior officer in the Syrian Army, spoke to Haaretz on conditions of anonymity. “I personally have no problem speaking to Israelis,” he said, “but our countries are still officially at war, and there are too many people who would try to use an interview to an Israeli paper to harm the opposition.” “The opposition figure says that around a third of the Syrian armed forces have defected so far. “There are two kinds of defectors,” he says, “the majority, around 60,000, have simply run away, back to their homes, while some 30,000 have actively joined the opposition, mostly the Free Syrian Army, and are fighting.”
Seriously? I can understand their fears about al-Qaeda (although I am sure there are some US officials who secretly fund them as they have in the past) but in what parallel universe would Hizbullah have access to weapons intended for the FSA? “The effort, U.S. officials told The Associated Press, would vet members of the Free Syrian Army and other groups to determine whether they are suitable recipients of munitions to fight the Assad government and to ensure that weapons don’t wind up in the hands of al-Qaida-linked terrorists or other extremist groups such as Hezbollah that could target Israel.”
Good roundup of developments related to FSA abductions of 12 Shi’ites and summary of Nasrallah speech:
“Updated 9:08pm:Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah urged his followers to remain calm after reports emerged on Tuesday that Syrian rebels had kidnapped 13 Lebanese men.
The men were said to have been returning from a tour of Shia holy sites in Iraq, and were traveling through Syria en route to Lebanon.
Lebanese TV network Al-Jadeed reported the men were kidnapped by Syrian rebels, which sparked protests by their relatives in the Beirut suburb of Tayouneh.
Families of the kidnapped men briefly blocked roads including the airport highway in the southern suburbs of Beirut to demand their release, but opened the roads following a plea from Nasrallah.
“The Free Syrian Army (FSA) said they took them. They let women go and kept the men. They told them that they will keep them until the Syrian army releases FSA detainees,” a relative of one of the men said.
“When we crossed the border around 40 gunmen stopped the bus and forced it into a nearby orchard and said women should stay on the bus and men get out,” Hayat Awali, who identified herself as a passenger, told Lebanon’s Al Jadeed TV from Aleppo.
“We told them we are only pilgrims. They said ‘take your pilgrims and go the police station in Aleppo and tell them we have prisoners there and we want them’.”
But a member of one of the disparate bands of insurgents who fight under the umbrella of the FSA, contacted by Reuters via Internet telephone channel Skype in Aleppo, denied any personal knowledge of the abduction.
Syrian forces were said to have launched raids with tanks and other armored vehicles in an area of northern Aleppo province near the place where the Shia pilgrims were kidnapped, an opposition group said.
The head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdulrahman, said people in the town of Azaz in Aleppo province told him Syrian forces were combing some of the districts, Reuters reported.
Nasrallah called on Hezbollah supporters not to resort to violent methods to express their anger, vowing to do all the party can to free the kidnapped men.
“We understand the emotions expressed… This is our responsibility… We can express our discontent in a civilized way,” he said.
“If the parents want to protest or have a sit-in in a mosque, it’s their right. But, in the name of Hezbollah and Amal, nobody should block roads,” he added.
“I wish from all people living in Dahiyeh, in all regions in Lebanon, our youth and followers and followers of Amal, we don’t want you to block roads. Who are you trying to pressure? The politicians? We are already taking responsibility, this is a priority. This action will harm people and their businesses and lives,” he said.
Hezbollah was already in contact with the Syrian and Lebanese governments on resolving the matter, Nasrallah said, adding that it was also the Lebanese government’s responsibility to free its citizens.
“They are Lebanese citizens, there is a government in Lebanon, a sovereign state that should take responsibility of this act, like any government that respects itself when its own citizens are kidnapped in another country,” he said.
Fear of a violent protests prompted the Hezbollah leader to make the call for restraint, after deadly clashes in the Lebanese capital on Sunday night left two people dead.
“The atmosphere in the country is not healthy at the moment and this will lead to problems. It’s not ethical to block roads, or to attack anybody on the streets,” he said.
Nasrallah also warned his followers from attacking the tens of thousands of Syrian working and living in Lebanon.
“People are saying there’s Syrians in Lebanon and let’s do anything about it, but this is forbidden, religiously and ethically,” he said.
“The Syrians living in Lebanon are our people and they are our brothers.”
Syrian rebels accuse Hezbollah of sending fighters to assist the Syrian regime, a charge Hezbollah denies, insisting it supports a political solution and has previously offered to mediate between the opposing parties.”