As the crisis in Syria intensifies, three Gulf states urge their people to leave neighbouring Lebanon
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have ordered their citizens to leave Lebanon after a series of kidnappings linked to neighbouring Syria, where the conflict has intensified.
The Gulf states urged their citizens to leave Lebanon amid reports that gunmen from a Lebanese Shi'ite clan had kidnapped more than 20 people, including a Turk, a Saudi and several Syrians, in retaliation for the capture of one of their kinsmen in Syria's capital Damascus.
The incident, in an area of Lebanon controlled by Hizbollah Shi'ite militants, raised the risk that the sectarian violence driving the conflict in Syria will spread to its neighbour.
Saudi Arabia, which is opposed to Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime, told its citizens to leave immediately after "clear threats against them," Lebanon's National News Agency said.
The United Arab Emirates issued a similar warning, with foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahayan tweeting: "Unfortunately, the situation is very dangerous."
In Qatar, the state news agency said: "Due to unstable security situation, Qatar's embassy in Beirut has urged Qatari nationals to leave Lebanon immediately."
t came as the United Nations issued a damning report into the conflict in Syria and a deadly massacre in the Syrian town of Azaz, near the Turkish border, was reported.
A doctor in Azaz said up to 30 people were killed and almost 200 others wounded when a government fighter jet bombarded the town where Syrian rebels were holding 11 Lebanese hostages.
Meanwhile, UN investigators have concluded that Syrian military forces and rebel fighters have both committed crimes against humanity during the 17-month uprising against President Bashar al Assad's rule.
The panel appointed by the UN Human Rights Council said that anti-government groups had carried out murders, extrajudicial killings and torture but with less "gravity, frequency and scale" than regime loyalists.
It also blamed the government and its Shabiha militia for the deaths of more than 100 civilians, many of them children, in the village of Houla in May.
The findings of the investigation were released as the rebels clashed with Syrian troops in Damascus, just hours after a bomb exploded near a hotel used by UN observers, wounding at least three people.
The fighting broke out after the Free Syrian Army launched an attack on government checkpoints in the district of Mezze, according to opposition activists.
It was also reported that smoke could be seen coming from the Iranian embassy building, which is under construction in the area.
Sky's foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall, reporting from the Syrian capital, said he had heard more than 20 explosions in just 15 minutes.
"I am guessing these are mortar rounds. I can't say for sure but they sound like mortar rounds," he said.
"They are concentrated very much into one area behind the Tishreen stadium."
None of the injured were believed to be members of the UN mission sent to Syria to monitor former special envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan aimed at ending the uprising.
The UN is due to meet on Thursday to discuss the future of its Supervision Mission in Syria.
Baroness Amos, the UN emergency co-ordinator, is currently in Damascus meeting Syrians displaced by the fighting. On the first day of the three-day visit, she went to an emergency shelter set up in a school.
"Clearly the situation has got worse since I was here in March," she said.
She added: "We will, through our partners the Syrian Arab Red Crescent who, as you know, have been doing an extremely good job trying to make sure the people who need help get help, we will continue to support them but also work to scale up our own efforts."