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Middle East

Deadly attack on Lebanese soldiers prompts fears of Syria spillover



Latest update : 2014-08-03

Gunmen killed eight soldiers in eastern Lebanon after clashes erupted following the arrest of a Syrian accused of belonging to a jihadist group, the army said on Sunday.

Eight Lebanese soldiers have been killed in clashes with gunmen in eastern Lebanon, near the border with Syria, which erupted after a suspected jihadist was detained, the army said Sunday.

In a statement, the army said its operations against the gunmen in the Arsal region continued into Sunday morning, adding that "during the battles the army lost eight martyrs and a number of others have been wounded."

The clashes began on Saturday afternoon after soldiers arrested a Syrian man who the army said admitted belonging to Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Al-Nusra Front.

Gunmen angered by the arrest surrounded army checkpoints in the region, before opening fire on troops and storming a police post in the town of Arsal, security sources said.

Two civilians were reported killed in the storming of the police post, and local media said the gunmen had also taken hostage a number of policemen, though there was no immediate confirmation.

'Gunmen holding police'

The army statement also confirmed reports that gunmen had briefly captured soldiers who its forces were able to later free.

Local media reported that the gunmen were holding a number of policemen, but there was no immediate confirmation.

The army deployed additional forces, including two helicopters, to the region in the wake of the clashes, which were continuing early Saturday evening.

Arsal, which is hosting tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, has frequently been the scene of conflict with Lebanese security forces.

Syria's army has also launched regular air raids and shelled the area around Arsal, saying it is targeting rebels who have holed up in the mountainous region surrounding the border town.

Tensions skyrocketed there earlier this year with a major influx of refugees and fighters after Syrian forces backed by members of the allied Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement recaptured most of the Qalamun region, just across the border from Arsal.

Al-Nusra Front has been fighting alongside Syrian rebel groups against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, and engaged in fierce clashes with regime and Hezbollah forces in Qalamun overnight, a monitoring group said on Saturday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based NGO, said at least 50 members of Al-Nusra and a second jihadist group, the Islamic State, were killed in the fighting.

Despite ideological similarities, Al-Nusra and the Islamic State have battled each other in northern Syria, but their forces have continued to cooperate against the regime elsewhere, including in Qalamun.

Though Syrian regime forces recaptured most of Qalamun earlier this year, small pockets of opposition fighters remain in the mountainous border area.

Violence from Syria's conflict has regularly spilled over into tiny Lebanon, which currently hosts more than one million Syrian refugees.

The border area has been particularly volatile, although bomb attacks claimed by groups fighting in Syria or linked to Syria-based factions have also targeted other regions, including the capital Beirut.



Date created : 2014-08-02


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