Two French diplomats and a French Embassy employee were kidnaped in Beirut today and the pro-Iranian Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility, saying the abductions were aimed at stopping an arms deal between France and Saudi Arabia.
French Embassy officials in Beirut said Marcel Fontaine, one of several vice consuls at the West Beirut mission, was kidnaped. The French ambassador and most of his staff, like nearly all of Beirut's diplomatic community, live and work in the Christian eastern half of the city.
"Witnesses said they saw the man grabbed by gunmen as he walked to work, pushed into a blue BMW car and driven away," a police spokesman said.
French Embassy officials said they were also looking for Marcel Carton, 62, the mission's chief of protocol, and his daughter, Danielle, 34, a secretary in the embassy's cultural section.
"They left their home in East Beirut at 8:30 a.m. and by 1:30 p.m. they had not shown up at the West Beirut embassy," a French official said. "They were traveling in a car but we do not have anything more than to say that they are missing."
A man identifying himself as a spokesman for the Islamic Jihad's Beirut branch claimed responsibility for the abductions in telephone calls to Western news agencies in Beirut.
"These abductions represent our discontent with the shameful relations France has with countries of the axis between the countries of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt," the caller told one Western news agency's Beirut office.
"The liberation of the French hostages is conditional on the annihilation of the Franco-Saudi contract to exchange Mirage planes for Saudi oil and a halt to France's direct and indirect intervention in the war between the Islamic republic (of Iran) and the regime of (President) Sadam Hussein (of Iraq)," the caller said in French.
The Franco-Saudi deal, which has not been publicly confirmed, involves a proposal to sell 40 Mirage fighter jets to Saudi Arabia in exchange for up to 73 million barrels of oil.
The kidnapings raised to six the number of foreigners abducted in West Beirut since March 14, when British scientist Geoffrey Vernon Nash was seized.
The next day, gunmen kidnaped another Briton, businessman Brian Levick, and on Saturday, Associated Press bureau chief Terry Anderson was abducted.
Four other Americans still are missing after being abducted after the takeover of West Beirut last February by Shia and Druze militias.
Although French diplomats have not been targeted for attacks in the past, five French cease-fire observers have been killed in and around Beirut since they were deployed last year.
In southern Lebanon, meanwhile, Israeli troops stormed another Shia Muslim village today, killing one person and rounding up 300 people for questioning. The raid came a day after at least 23 people were killed, including two CBS News journalists, in Israeli raids on several villages.
U.N. officials said Israeli tanks and troop carriers entered the village of Qlaile, seven miles north of Naqoura, the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon.
"The latest Israeli operation started at 6 a.m. One villager was killed and another wounded by the first Israeli patrol which entered the village," U.N. spokesman Timur Goksel said.
"The (Israeli Defense Force) has rounded up 300 men in the village for questioning. They are also searching some homes," he said.