“Hezbollah doesn’t need to have done the kidnapping themselves,” said a Western military attache with close ties to the U.N. force, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because of a lack of authorization to talk to journalists. “They’re in a position to control these sorts of incidents, and the message is clear that they aren’t going to stop them.”
A resident of the predominantly Shiite southern suburbs of Beirut said Hezbollah was keen to a growing anger among residents about the kidnappings.
“The government can do nothing for our hostages and the Turks control their fate,” said Abu Ibrahim Moussawi, a storeowner in southern Beirut. “Hezbollah knows that the people are furious and need to let the families . . . pressure the Turks to release our people.”
A Hezbollah security commander denied the group’s involvement in the kidnappings. But he said the situation was being closely monitored to “make sure things do not get out of control. The people are very angry, and we have to respect them.”
The escalating drama around the nine pilgrims – who appear to have close family and cultural ties to Hezbollah – has thrown Beirut’s tourism industry into disarray even as Syria’s tiny neighbor already has seen a massive drop in the economically crucial sector, which represents at least 25 percent of the country’s economy.
“What happened could be the last nail in the coffin of the tourism sector,” interim Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud told a local TV station. He stressed that the kidnappings came just as the Lebanese government was attempting to convince several nations to relax their travel warnings on Lebanon.