Lebanese army kills 11 militants near Syria border

The killing of the Islamist militants came after the gunmen seized a police station in the Lebanese border town Arsal

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Eleven militants were killed in fighting with the Lebanese army near the Syrian border on Saturday, a Lebanese security official told Reuters, in a battle touched off by an attack on security forces in a border town.

The killing of the Islamist militants came after the gunmen seized a police station in the Lebanese border town Arsal and killed two soldiers.

Two Lebanese civilians were also killed Saturday when the police post was stormed after clashing with army troops over the arrest of an alleged Syrian jihadist, security sources told Agence France-Presse.

The Lebanese army shelled militant positions near Arsal, security sources told Reuters, while witnesses said Syrian warplanes had bombed rebel positions in the area.

Soldiers fought against the militants into the night in what appeared to be a bid to drive them back into the border zone.

Lebanese gunmen sympathetic to the Syrian insurgents were holding at least nine members of the Lebanese security forces captured in the area, Lebanese security forces said.

Saturday’s attacks came hours after the army said troops have detained Syrian citizen Imad Ahmad Jomaa, who identified himself as a member of Syria’s al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

عماد أحمد جمعة الذي اعترف، بحسب بيان الجيش اللبناني، بانتمائه إلى جبهة النصرة
عماد أحمد جمعة الذي اعترف، بحسب بيان الجيش اللبناني، بانتمائه إلى جبهة النصرة

AFP reported that the clashes broke out close to Arsal, many of whose residents support the uprising against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

Local media said the army had deployed in force in the area after gunmen surrounded several army checkpoints following the arrest, and that two military helicopters were headed to the region.

The army said in a statement it had arrested Jomaa at noon and that he had admitted to belonging to Al-Nusra Front, which is al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.

Arsal is a predominantly Sunni town hosting tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and has supported the Sunni-led uprising against Assad.

The area has been the scene of frequent tensions with Lebanese security forces, as well as air raids and shelling by Syrian troops across the border who say they are targeting rebel forces holed up in the mountainous region.

Al-Nusra Front has been fighting against the Syrian government forces along with other rebel groups.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement deployed forces heavily in the area of Arsal and was put on high alert but had not taken part in the battle, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters. Hezbollah is fighting alongside President al-Assad’s forces.

Lebanon army pleads firm action

Lebanon’s army pledged to respond in a “decisive and firm” manner to prevent the Syrian conflict spilling into Lebanon after two soldiers were killed in clashes with gunmen.

“The army will not allow any party to transfer the battle from Syria to its territory (Lebanon),” the statement said.

“The army will be decisive and firm in its response and will not remain silent as foreigners try to turn our land into a field for crime and terrorism, murder and kidnapping.”

‘Most dangerous development’

Lebanon-based analyst Nazar Abdulqadir told Al Arabiya News Channel on Saturday that the incident was “the tip of the iceberg,” warning that Islamist militants are infiltrating Lebanon through Syrian refugees.

Abdulqadir said Beirut should organize Syrian refugees who are haphazardly spread in the country.

“In terms of repercussions for Lebanon, it is the most dangerous development since the eruption of the Syrian crisis,” Nabil Boumonsef, a commentator with the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, told Reuters.

It risked further inflaming sectarian tensions in Lebanon, he said. “The army can still contain it, but it will be costly.”

Rebel fighters often cross the porous frontier, sometimes resting or seeking medical treatment in Arsal.

Syria troops kill 50 jihadists near Lebanon

Meanwhile, Syrian troops backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah killed at least 50 jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front late Friday, activists said on Saturday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Islamists clashed Friday night and into Saturday morning with troops loyal to Syrian al-Assad and his allied forces in the Qalamoun region near the Lebanese border.

(With AFP and Associated Press)

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