There were growing fears last night that Lebanon is getting drawn into Syria's 'civil war' as 13 Lebanese Shiites were kidnapped in the north of the war-torn country.
The increased tensions between the neighbours came as Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, warned that Syria is at a "pivotal moment in the search for a peaceful settlement to the crisis", stating the country is on the brink of civil war.
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 security officials, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly.
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbollah, called for calm. "I call on everyone to show restraint," he said in an address on the party's Al-Manar television station.
"It is not acceptable for anyone to block roads or carry out violent acts."
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 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.
In the effort to calm antagonised anti-Assad Sunni Lebanese groups, authorities released Shadi Mawlawi, an outspoken critic of Syria's leadership. The cleric had been accused of sparking several days of clashes in northern Lebanon that had killed eight people.
Violence erupted in Beirut on Monday after the killing of another anti-Assad Sunni cleric, Sheikh Ahmed Abdul-Wahid.
Rocket-propelled grenades smashed into buildings and machine gun fire was exchanged between supporting and opposing Damascus groups. The battles increased fears that protracted violence in Syria could drag Lebanon into renewed civil war.
Meanwhile, a blast that killed five people in the Qaboon neighbourhood of Damascus on Tuesday, was planted by a militia affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, an activist told reporters.
"The bomb exploded in or near a restaurant. There were five shabiha (government paramilitaries) close by so the FSA targeted it," said the activist who asked not to be named.
At least 59 people died nationwide on Monday, including 31 loyalist troops who were killed in pitched battles with rebel fighters, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
The violence is rendering redundant the UN ceasefire that came into effect on April 12. (© Daily Telegraph, London)