Officials: Syrian rebels kidnap 12 Lebanese

Lebanese anti-Syrian regime critic Shadi Mawlawi, center, who was accused of belonging to a terrorist group, is carried on his friends' shoulders as they celebrate his release from jail, in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, May 22, 2012.
AP Photo

(AP) BEIRUT - Syrian rebels kidnapped 12 Lebanese Shiites in northern Syria on Tuesday, adding to fears that Lebanon is getting drawn into the chaos next door, security officials said.

The victims were on their way home from a religious pilgrimage in Iraq when rebels intercepted their vehicles in Syria's Aleppo province, according to the officials, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Some Lebanese took to the streets of Beirut's Shiite area and burned tires to protest the abductions. The leader of Hezbollah, Lebanon's powerful Shiite militant group and a strong ally of Syria, was expected to give a speech within hours.

Beirut clashes kill 1 amid fear of Syria spillover

The kidnappings come at a time of high tension in Lebanon over the 15-month-old conflict in Syria. Lebanon navigates a fragile fault line over Syria, which had troops on the ground in Lebanon for nearly 30 years until 2005 and still has strong ties to Lebanon's security services.

The countries share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries, which can quickly turn violent.

On Sunday, an anti-Syrian cleric was killed in northern Lebanon, setting off a night of deadly street battles in Beirut. It was some of the worst fighting in the Lebanese capital in four years. At least two people were killed and 15 wounded.

Sunnis form the backbone of the Syrian uprising, which has unleashed seething sectarian tensions.