- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 22, 2012

BEIRUT — Syrian rebels kidnapped 12 Lebanese Shiites in northern Syria on Tuesday, fueling fears that Lebanon is getting drawn into the chaos next door, security officials said.

The Shiites were on their way home from a religious pilgrimage in Iran when rebels intercepted their vehicles in Syria’s Aleppo province and abducted the men, Hezbollah’s Manar TV station said.

The women were in a “safe place,” Manar reported, without elaborating.

Lebanese security officials confirmed the kidnapping.

Some Lebanese took to the streets of Beirut’s southern sector, a 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, appealed for calm and warned his followers against revenge attacks targeting Syrians.

“This is strictly prohibited,” Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech.

He urged protesters not to block the roads, and he said the Lebanese government must press for the pilgrims’ release.

“We will work day and night until these beloved people are with us,” Sheik Nasrallah said.

Hezbollah has stood by Syrian President Bashar Assad as he struggles to put down a 15-month-old uprising. Sunnis form the backbone of the uprising, which has unleashed boiling sectarian tensions.

Mr. Assad and the ruling elite in Syria belong to the tiny Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiism.

Tuesday’s kidnappings come at a time of deep tension in Lebanon over the conflict in Syria. The countries share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries, which can quickly turn violent.

The conflict already has spilled across the border, with deadly results.

Lebanese Sunni groups supporting and opposing the Damascus regime fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns in the Lebanese capital early Monday, killing at least two people. It was the most serious outbreak of violence in Beirut since the uprising began next door.

The spark for the violence was the killing Sunday of Sheik Ahmed Abdul-Wahid, an anti-Syrian Sunni cleric, and his bodyguard in northern Lebanon.

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