Suspected Nusra Front militants were holding around 10 Lebanese truck drivers hostage at a major border crossing with Jordan Friday, two days after rebel fighters seized control of it from the Syrian government.
“The incident occurred in no man’s land between the Syrian Nassib crossing and Jordan’s Jaber crossing,” Lebanon’s Economy Minister Alain Hakim, who was in contact with Jordanian authorities, told The Daily Star.
He said about 10 Lebanese truckers were kidnapped by militants in an area controlled by the Nusra Front, but the actual number was not known. A number of cars and trucks have been stuck in the area since Wednesday, Hakim said.
Syrian rebels took control of the major southern crossing Wednesday night, a day after Jordanian authorities had announced shutting the borders, particularly the Jaber crossing.
Omar al-Ali, head of the Lebanese refrigerated truck union, was cited by AFP as saying that between 30 and 35 Lebanese drivers and their trucks and refrigerated vehicles had been trapped in the border’s free zone.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Seer al-Dinnieh Mayor Ahmad Alam said that eight trucks he owns were stuck with their drivers at the border. He explained that two were stuck on the Nassib crossing, two on Jordan’s Jaber crossing and four were “out of reach.”
Alam added that his trucks and a number of other trucks contained fresh food products that would not last another day, confirming that “many tons” of items were stolen.
Ibrahim Tarshishi, head of the Bekaa Farmers Gathering, said he was informed about eight Lebanese truck drivers being held by Syrian militants at the Nassib crossing.
“Six of them are from Tripoli and two from Majdal Anjar,” Tarshishi told The Daily Star.
“They are still able to call their families for now.”
Tarshishi added that now there were around 22 other Lebanese truckers who were stuck at Jordan’s Jaber crossing. “Jordan can help us by letting those drivers in.”
A source from the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said the ministry had contacted the Jordanian Embassy in Beirut and requested that Jordanian authorities let the drivers in to the Hashemite kingdom.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that around 300 vehicles were stranded between a closed Jordanian border from one side and Syrian Islamist militants on the other.
Hakim said he had been speaking since Friday morning with Jordanian authorities through Jordan’s ambassador to Lebanon.
No ransom has been demanded yet, Hakim said, refuting media reports that the gunmen asked for $50,000 for the release of each Lebanese trucker.
Not mentioning that the the Nassib border crossing had fallen into the hands of the rebels, the Syrian government announced through its media agency SANA Thursday that the crossing was now closed and that any attempt to cross the borders would be considered “illegal trespassing.” Dozens of truckers were stuck between the two borders as a result and gunmen took the opportunity to loot the trucks as well as the transit area.
Pictures appearing on Twitter Friday showed gunmen looting the trucks. The pictures showed militants with rifles on their backs loading their vehicles and motorcycles with furniture, boxes of food and other items. One of the pick-up trucks used by the looters had the three-star flag used by Syrian rebels on the side of it.
Syrian rebels celebrated the takeover of the border crossing on their Twitter accounts, with some writing that “booty was confiscated,” in reference to the looted objects from the trucks in the transit area.
With the takeover of the Nassib crossing, the Syrian government lost its last major passage into Jordan, after rebels had taken control of the old customs “Jumrok Qadeem” crossing in October 2013.
The Nassib crossing is vital for the transportation of goods from Lebanon and Syria to Jordan and Gulf countries.“It is a vital road,” Hakim said. “It affects Syria and Jordan greatly, and not only Lebanon. But alternatives are available to us.”
After Wednesday’s events, most of the 370 kilometer border between Jordan and Syria had fallen to the rebels. The Observatory has been reporting that Syrian military aircraft had been bombing nearby areas since the loss of the crossing.
Hakim said that shelling was occurring nearby, but denied that any Lebanese citizens had been harmed. The Observatory cited witnesses who said two people were killed in the strikes.