Father of Syrian deputy FM abducted in Daraa

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Gunmen kidnapped on Saturday the elderly father of Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in the province of Daraa, apparently in reprisal for the arrest of one of their relatives, according to a government source and a watchdog.

The deputy foreign minister’s office said Mekdad's father, 80, was seized in the village of Ghossom in the southern Daraa, according to AP.

“Today armed men abducted Mr Muqdad's father from his home in the village of Ghossom,”a government source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“They beat him up in front of his family then took him to Daraa city,” said the source.

There had been no immediate claim of responsibility.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP earlier that Muqdad's father, who was not named, was seized “in reprisal for the arrest by regime forces of relatives of one of the armed men.”

Abdel Rahman said negotiations were underway to free him.

Daraa province is the cradle of the insurgency against the central government and the scene of deadly battles between government forces and armed rebels.

Muqdad is considered as one of the most powerful voices of the embattled Syrian regime.

Situation on the ground

Elsewhere, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the country’s opposition fighters seized control of four deserted Alawite villages in the central province of Hama.

“Late on Friday night, the rebels took complete control of Tlaissiyeh, Zoghbe, Shaata and Balil, after the withdrawal of the army following several weeks of fighting,” the Observatory said, as quoted by AFP.

“The residents abandoned the villages at the beginning of the fighting,” it added.

Meanwhile, anti-government activists told Al Arabiya that Bashar al-Assad’s regime allegedly used chemical weapons when it struck Al Asali district in Damascus, and Saraqeb, a town south-west of Aleppo.

This comes as the London-based Observatory reported a campaign of arrests in central Damascus, and regime artillery fire at sites in the capital and its surrounding areas, which wounded several people, AFP said.

In Yabrud district, north of the capital, state media announced that the army had “destroyed bomb-manufacturing facilities and killed terrorists with Saudi, Tunisian, Libyan and Afghan nationalities.”

Violence across the country on Friday killed 116 people -- 47 rebels, 44 civilians and 25 soldiers -- according to the Observatory.

On Wednesday, the so-called ‘Friends of Syria’ will gather in the Jordanian capital Amman to discuss a possible solution to the ongoing violence in Syria.