BEIRUT/ALEPPO - Gulf Arab states began evacuating their citizens from Lebanon on Thursday after kidnappings linked to Syria's civil war showed violence has begun to spread across a region torn by sectarian divisions.
Lebanese Shi'ite gunmen seized more than 20 people in an area of Beirut run by Hezbollah, a group backed by Syrian ally Iran, and said they were holding citizens of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, key backers of Syria's mainly Sunni Muslim insurgency.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain all told their nationals to leave at once. Some nations have already begun flying their citizens home.
The kidnappers' threat to take more Saudi, Turkish and Qatari hostages to secure the release of a kinsman held by Syrian rebels in Damascus bore ominous echoes of Lebanon's own, long civil war - and Arab governments lost no time in urging visitors to leave Beirut's popular summer tourist haunts.