Syrian opposition denies involvement in abduction of Lebanese Shiites
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) has denied responsibility for the abduction of Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in northern Syria. This came as the rebel town of Rastane was heavily shelled by government forces Wednesday. " FSA is not at all responsible for this kidnapping. We do not operate like that. It is an attempt to damage the image of the FSA," said Gen. Mustafa Al-Sheikh Chief of the Military Council of the FSA, which is based in Turkey. "We condemn the kidnapping which is not within the values of the Syrian revolution", he said, asserting that the abduction was "probably the work of the regime that wants to create chaos in the region." The Syrian National Council, the main body of the opposition, also suspected the regime of Bashar al-Assad of being behind the kidnapping Tuesday. In a statement, the SNC said it "does not rule out the involvement of the Syrian regime security forces in this operation in order to create unrest in Lebanon, a sister country hosting the refugees and the wounded of the Syrian people." The Lebanese are divided between pro-and anti-Assad regime and the Syrian authorities are increasingly irritated by the presence of insurgents in northern Lebanon. The Lebanese National News Agency (NNA) reported Tuesday the abduction of 13 Lebanese Shiites in the province of Aleppo in northern Syria, as they were returning by bus from a pilgrimage in Iran, attributing this action to the FSA. In the night, a plane carrying women, who were among a group of the pilgrims, landed in Beirut. Most of them have told the press that the gunmen identified themselves as "members of the FSA." The Lebanese Foreign Minister, Adnan Mansour, said last night that the other group members would be released "within hours". The kidnapping of Lebanese Shiites led to the mobilization of the Lebanese Shiite community, which has demonstrated and blocked streets in Beirut on Tuesday. The head of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hizbullah, Hassan Nasrallah, an ally of Damascus, called for "restraint", assuring that "contacts were made with the Syrian authorities and other influential countries in the region to ensure their liberation ". The armed opposition was accused of having conducted another abduction, that of three Iranian truck drivers kidnapped Monday in Syria, according to the Iranian charge d'affaires in Damascus quoted Wednesday by the Iranian media. Nearly 30 Iranians, workers or pilgrims, were abducted in Syria since the beginning in March 2011 of the uprising against the regime. The opposition claims most of the Iranians were soldiers who were sent by Tehran to help the regime in suppressing the revolt. Meanwhile, Syrian government troops shelled relentlessly the rebellious city of Rastane in the center of the country. This city, surrounded by the army and almost emptied of its inhabitants, escaped for several months from government control. Elsewhere, a civilian was killed in the region of Aleppo by firing from government forces and another died in Qousseir, in the province of Homs after being shot by a sniper. On Tuesday, 26 people including 14 civilians and 12 soldiers were killed in the violence, despite the presence of some 270 UN observers. They fail to enforce the truce called by the peace plan of international envoy Kofi Annan on April 12.