Two Lebanese soldiers killed in escalating violence near Syrian border
BEIRUT – At least two Lebanese soldiers and several civilians were reported killed Saturday in clashes with Syrian rebels on Lebanese territory close to the Syrian border, according to media and official accounts.
The incident was the latest example of violence spilling over into Lebanon, where the Syrian conflict has heightened sectarian tensions.
After Saturday’s violence, Lebanese lawmakers pledged solidarity against “terrorism,” a declaration that has become routine in the wake of attacks related to the Syrian civil war.
“We need to put all political differences and calculations aside and collectively support the Lebanese army and security forces in the face of terrorist threats,” Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said in a statement.
Saturday’s clashes erupted after Lebanese army troops near the border town of Arsal arrested a Syrian rebel affiliated with Al Nusra Front, a Syrian opposition faction linked to al-Qaida, according to Lebanese government accounts. The army identified the suspect as Imad Ahmad Joumaa, a Syrian national.
His detention prompted armed groups to attack army positions and demand the suspect’s release, according to Lebanon’s national news agency. Various reports described hours of gunfire and a tense standoff. Two army soldiers were captured but later freed, according to the army.
A group of gunmen “from different nationalities” opened fire on army headquarters and other sites in the Arsal area, resulting in several deaths and injuries to troops and civilians, an army statement said. Local media said two soldiers had been killed. The number of civilian casualties remained unclear.
Security was heightened in Arsal and elsewhere in response to the attacks, the government reported.
The violence erupted as pro-government forces in Syria mounted an offensive against Syrian rebel bases close to the Lebanese border, Syria’s official news service reported. That advance may have prompted fighters to seek refuge in Lebanon.