BEIRUT - A large Lebanese Shiite clan said on Wednesday it has kidnapped at least 20 Syrians to try to secure the release of a family member abducted near Damascus this week.
"They were kidnapped because a member of our family was taken the day before yesterday in Syria," family member Abu Ali al-Muqdad said by telephone, adding that one of the Syrians was injured.
According to Arab television reports, a Syrian rebel group claimed it had kidnapped Hassan al-Muqdad on Monday, accusing him of being a sniper and a member of Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah.
"He is neither a sniper nor a member of Hezbollah," Abu Ali said. "All the accusations are a lie."
"Our demand is not political, this is a humanitarian issue," he added.
Lebanese television station Al-Mayadeen ran an interview with a member of the Muqdad clan who threatened "further action until Hassan is freed. All Syrians in Lebanon are a legitimate target."
The television channel also broadcast a video of two of those purportedly kidnapped, surrounded by armed men.
A high-ranking security official said he had no immediate comment on the matter. "We are working on it," he said.
Ahmed Shlash, a Syrian MP in Lebanon to negotiate their release, told Al-Mayadeen: "Syrians coming to work in Lebanon should not be dragged into a sectarian struggle. Young people coming to work in Lebanon have nothing to do with politics."
Violence in neighbouring Syria has spilled over into Lebanon in the form of cross-border shootings, shelling by the Syrian army, tit-for-tat kidnappings and sectarian clashes between groups which are divided over the revolt.
Syrian rebel groups have frequently accused Hezbollah -- which is closely allied with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad -- of interfering in the violence, though the group has consistently denied this.
Syria occupied Lebanon militarily and politically for nearly three decades until 2005, when its troops were forced to pull out under international pressure after the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri that year.
Seven years after Syria withdrew from Lebanon, the country's political forces remain sharply divided over their neighbour.