Lebanese army, Islamist militants agree ceasefire in Arsal

A convoy of Lebanese army soldiers evacuate Lebanese residents from the town of Arsal, near the Syrian border on August 4, 2014. (Reuters)

The Lebanese army and Islamist militants agreed a 24-hour ceasefire on Tuesday after four days of fighting triggered by the rebels' seizure of a border town, in the most serious spillover of Syria's three-year civil war into Lebanon, Reuters news agency reported.

The agency quoted a source as saying the ceasefire would allow time for a mediator to investigate the fate of 22 soldiers missing since the militants seized the town of Arsal on Saturday and to help evacuate civilians, including those wounded in the conflict.

The ceasefire, which came into force at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT), was broken briefly late in the evening when an army position came under fire but calm quickly returned, the source added.

Two soldiers were killed in fighting overnight in the town of Arsal and militants wounded at least seven others in the coastal city of Tripoli on Tuesday as violence persisted for a fourth day near Lebanon's northern borders with Syria.

The flare-up brings to 16 the total killed so far, security sources said. An unknown number of civilians and militants have also been killed in the fighting.

An 8-year-old girl was shot dead overnight in Tripoli. France said Tuesday it would move quickly to answer a call from Lebanon for faster arms deliveries as it battles Islamist militants on the border.

"France is fully committed to supporting the Lebanese army... We are in close contact with our partners to quickly meet Lebanon's needs," deputy foreign ministry spokesman Vincent Floreani said.

A convoy of Lebanese Sunni Muslims was also attacked Tuesday with its members successfully evacuated from the Lebanese border town of Arsal, an Al Arabiya correspondent reported.

The convoy was attacked as it entered Arsal. At least five religious leaders were wounded in the incident, Reuters reported. They had been on a mediation mission to secure the ceasefire.

A Sunni cleric in the town said the clerics were slightly wounded and treated in a hospital in the town.

"The clerics are now in a hospital in Arsal, their convoy came under fire from an area that is controlled by the army," Mustafa al-Hujairi, a leading Sunni cleric in Arsal, told Reuters.

The group was also hoping to secure the release of soldiers and members of the security forces detained by gunmen in the town.

The Lebanese army advanced into the northeastern border town with Syria on Monday in an effort to expel Islamists, as the Lebanese government ruled out any political deal with the militants.

The army pounded areas around Arsal with artillery for a third day in a bid to expel the fighters thought to belong to the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Advancing soldiers found the bodies of 50 militants, Reuters quoted a Lebanese security official as saying.

Fighting erupted after the Lebanese security forces arrested a Syrian Islamist rebel commander on Saturday. At least two dozen members of the Lebanese security services - both army and police - have been taken hostage or are missing.

(With Reuters and AFP)
 

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