Rockets slam historic Lebanese city of Baalbek
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Hours after the Assad regime seized control of the strategic Syrian town of Qusair on Wednesday, rockets from across the Lebanon-Syria border hit the Hezbollah stronghold of Baalbek, home to some of Lebanon’s best-preserved Roman ruins.
The spillover of the Syrian conflict into Lebanon escalated on Wednesday evening, when at least five rockets launched from across the Syrian border hit the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek, home to some of Lebanon’s best-preserved Roman ruins and a Hezbollah stronghold.
Two rockets landed near the town’s historic Roman ruins and another three landed in the city centre, injuring at least two people, a Lebanese security source told the AFP.
According to the Lebanese Arabic language daily, As Safir, around 10 mortar rounds and rockets slammed into the city, injuring three children in the areas of al Sharawneh, al Basatine and Iaat.
Shortly after the attack, gunmen took to the streets of the city while others headed for the nearest border, according to local residents. "Many men have gone up to the border area, and we are ready to go after them, to defend Lebanon" against Syria's rebels, Ali Abu Zahi, a 40-year-old resident of Baalbek, told the AFP.
A Lebanese military statement on Thursday said soldiers inspected the areas where the rockets had fallen and carried out patrols.
Baalbek attack directly linked to fall of Qusair
The attack on Baalbek, situated in the Bekaa Valley, came just hours after the Syrian army, supported by Hezbollah fighters, seized control of the strategic Syrian town of Qusair.
Syrian government and rebel forces fought an intense battle over the past few weeks for control of the town, which lies on a critical cross-border supply route between Lebanon and Syria.
Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict has drawn criticism from several Western governments. In an interview with the BBC on Wednesday, a senior Syrian rebel commander warned that his fighters were ready to move the battles into Lebanon to confront Hezbollah members fighting alongside the Syrian regime forces.
Reporting from Beirut, FRANCE 24’s Badih Karhani said the attack on Baalbek was directly linked to the fall of Qusair. “The FSA [Free Syrian Army] and the rebels are simply acting on their threats. They had already announced their intention to target the heart of Lebanon, especially Hezbollah stronghold areas, in retaliation for the latter's commitment to fight with the Syrian regime,” said Karhani.
While Lebanon has officially maintained a policy of neutrality in Syria’s conflict, the civil war across its borders is threatening the delicate multi-religious fabric of this tiny, Middle Eastern nation, opening ethnic fault lines in a country that experienced a brutal civil war in the 1980s.
After a bitter two-year conflict across its border, Lebanese society is divided between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Clashes have frequently erupted between Lebanese Sunnis and Alawites - a community from which Assad hails - in the northern Lebanese border city of Tripoli. There have been several rocket attacks fired in retaliation from across the Syrian frontier on the Lebanese border village of Hermel, which is a Hezbollah stronghold. But Wednesday’s attack marked the first time the historic city of Baalbek has been targeted in the Syrian conflict.