Hezbollah issued a statement Tuesday denying that Meqdad was a member. Meanwhile, Col. Malik Kurdi, a deputy commander of the Free Syrian Army, said he could not confirm whether Meqdad was being held by FSA fighters or members of another armed group in Syria.
In a nearly identically posed video broadcast Wednesday, three gunmen stand behind two captured Syrians with a banner behind them reading “Al Meqdad Clan,” as a Meqdad member asks them questions in the presence of a reporter from the Lebanese MTV news channel.
The first man identifies himself as Mohammed Musa Issa and says he is a member of the FSA from Daraa who helps recruit and procure weapons for the Syrian rebels in Lebanon. The second man gives his name as Maher Al-Housarnabi and says he is also an FSA member who assists Issa.
Absent from both videos is any expression of the seething sectarian anger between Shiite and Sunni Muslims that is partly driving the tit-for-tat kidnappings and that observers fear could easily spin out of control.
Lebanon’s Meqdad clan members are mostly Shiites, many of whom support Hezbollah, in the eastern Bekaa Valley and the southern suburbs of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold. The rebels in Syria are mostly Sunnis who accuse Hezbollah of supporting a government dominated by Alawites, a religious sect that is an offshoot of Shiism, politically and militarily.
“If they do the right thing, we will do the right thing,” said Ramzi Meqdad, who said he was a spokesman for the clan. “If they do the wrong thing and kill, we will do the same.” Meqdad said the group wanted the International Committee of the Red Cross to mediate an exchange of captives.
The Syrian conflict also has a broader regional dimension, with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey (all countries with a Sunni majority) supporting the opposition, while predominantly Shiite Iran backs the government.
In interviews with Lebanese news channels Wednesday, members of the Meqdad clan also threatened to kidnap Qatari and Saudi nationals in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar later told their citizens to leave the country, Reuters news service reported.
Lebanese men protesting the kidnapping of Meqdad in Syria, as well as 11 Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in late May who are reportedly still in rebel custody, burned tires and blocked the airport road in Beirut on Wednesday evening.