In an irony of history, the old Lebanon, feared in the decade of the 1970s for its hijackers, is now the victim of kidnappings. The confusion is greater when Lebanese are kidnapped in Syria and Syrians are kidnapped in Lebanon as a deliberate proxy war between pro-Syrian regime groups in Lebanon, and detractor groups in Syria.
[Families of the eleven Lebanese kidnapped respond to press and ask for immediate release of their relatives.]
The media reports began to filter in on Wednesday afternoon with the news that either four or eleven of the Lebanese kidnapped last May in Syria had died after the shelling of Izaaz by the Syrian army. Relatives of the eleven Lebanese members of the Moqdad family and Shi`i supporters blocked the road leading to the Beirut airport. Along with other women, the daughter of one of the hostages started a spontaneous sit-in before the Lebanese army was deployed in the area to keep protesters from entering the airport. She said "for more than a week I had not heard news of my father. They say they have all died, after they said that only four died . . . they are playing with our health. We want them to be back, and this regime is doing nothing." The travelers dragged their luggage as best they could through the fire, burning tires, and angry demonstrators. Some of them even stopped, suitcase in hand, to have their pictures taken with the background of fire, fueled by dozens of young men throwing gasoline and tires—a practice that is becoming a national sport, reaching unexpected records this holy month of Ramadan in Lebanon.
[Travelers stop to have their picture taken with burning tires as a souvenir before catching their flight.]
Many of the protesters are originally from the Bekaa region, and were condemning the inaction of the Lebanese regime before the hijackings of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). A member of the Moqdad family, one of the most powerful families of the Bekaa, was kidnapped by the FSA, which holds the men as alleged members of Hezbollah. The Moqdad family denies belonging to Hezbollah and has threatened to use its military wing to fight the FSA in Lebanon and Syria, with the support of other powerful clans of the Bekaa region. To prove that their words are not merely a show, they claimed on Wednesday to have seized forty Syrians and one Turkish citizen suspected of being FSA members in Lebanon. This episode highlights the fragility (if not absence) of a Lebanese government, when families, militias, and sheikhs might decide to cut the country`s streets indefinitely, block the access to the main airport, or display their gunmen on the streets.
[More than 200 young men participated to the road blockage, many of them masked and on motorcycles.]
As a result, more than two-hundred thousand Syrian workers living in Lebanon and more than twenty thousand refugees who arrived since the beginning of the fighting in Syria (in March of last year) have started to tremble. "I`m thinking about returning to Syria. What good is being here under the fear to be kidnapped or killed when my family is in Syria? I`d rather die under the bombs next to them," relates Anouar, a doorman of a building in the neighborhood of Corniche Al Mazra`a in Beirut.
[Only few cars are allowed to pass the "checkpoint" to the airport controlled by young masked men.]
Among the demonstrators who cut off the airport road were more than a hundred motorized young men. A wall of fire blocked the cars` way. Only a few luxurious SUVs with tinted windows were allowed to pass through. In one of them was a masked man wearing a military jacket and a pistol, which he pulled repeatedly—at this moment, we all decided to give a break to our cameras and mobiles.
[More than 200 young men participated to the road blockage, many of them masked and in motorcycles.]
Some of the travelers were unable to reach the airport. Others, with a great show of normalcy, pushed their luggage (some dragged, while the more fortunate had wheels) towards the military cordon in order to catch their flights.
[All images by Natalia Sancha.]