Alleged Kidnapping of Lebanese Forces Coordinator Pascal Sleiman Causes Public Opinion Split

On the evening of Sunday, April 7, an alleged kidnapping operation targeted Lebanese Forces Coordinator Pascal Sleiman in Jbeil.

While the details of the group behind the operation and the interests that motivated it remain unclear, public opinion quickly became divided as proponents rushed to generate competing conclusions.

On Monday, April 8, the Lebanese Army issued a statement on X (previously Twitter) where it cited that the intelligence directorate was able to arrest a number of Syrian individuals participating in the operation, adding that follow-up is in place to specify the location of Sleiman and the motivations behind the operation.

The Lebanese Army’s statement engendered a range of reactions, ranging between praises to the army and doubts to its statement’s accuracy.

The Hezbollah Narrative

Since Sunday evening, several proponents on social media and a number of political groups assumed Hezbollah was behind the operation. Demonstrators blocked the Jbeil Highway on Sunday evening in protest of the abduction.

For those that have accused Hezbollah of political violence, since the civil war up to Lokman Slim’s death, the group was considered an automatic suspect.

In addition, many theorized that Hezbollah would benefit from the kidnapping politically, given that Jbeil is a contested area between several political groups, including Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces.

In response to the Lebanese Army’s statement, many highlighted that it’s practically unlikely that Syrians – who suffer from tough economic conditions, limited mobility and political power – could carry such an operation, with some even going as far as accusing the army of cowardice in not naming Hezbollah.

On the other hand, supporters of Hezbollah rejected such theories, and used the Lebanese Army’s statement as evidence. They categorized such assumptions under campaigns to smear the political group’s image and frame it for crimes it didn’t commit.

Amidst the tensions between the two groups, several members of the Lebanese Army were deployed between the neighborhoods of Chiyah and Ain el Remmeneh – two areas where there is a heavy presence of Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces.

Syrians on the Receiving End

Across different points of view, however, many used this incident as an opportunity to promote hate and incite violence against Syrians in Lebanon. Even among those who rejected the claim that Syrians led the operation, many made sure to clarify their unfavorable view of Syrians.

Campaigns and violence against Syrian refugees in Lebanon are rapidly increasing, and a large portion of political groups and proponents are using the country’s many economic and security downturns to incite against Syrians.

As matters stand, the whereabouts of Sleiman remain unknown, with news outlets and hearsay suggesting diverging situations. While some suggest that security forces are close to locating Sleiman, others are suggesting he is in Syria.