Lebanese army tries to expel Syria-linked militants from Arsal

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By Alexander Dziadosz

Lebanese army soldiers sit on top of an armoured vehicle near the entrance leading to Arsal August 3, 2014. REUTERS/Hassan Abdallah
Lebanese army soldiers sit on top of an armoured vehicle near the entrance leading to Arsal August 3, 2014. REUTERS/Hassan Abdallah

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Lebanese soldiers traded fire with Islamist gunmen and shelled areas around the border town of Arsal on Sunday aiming to roll back the biggest incursion by militants into Lebanon since Syria’s civil war began.

At least 10 Lebanese soldiers have died in the fighting, which erupted after Islamists seized a police station following the arrest of one of their leaders on Saturday – an attack that army chief General Jean Kahwaji said was premeditated.

“What happened is far more dangerous than some believe,” Kahwaji told reporters in Beirut, saying the arrested commander had admitted to planning a large attack against army positions.

“The terrorist attack which occurred yesterday was not an attack by chance or coincidence. It was planned previously, a long time ago, awaiting the appropriate time,” he said.

An unknown number of militants and civilians, possibly dozens, were also killed in the fighting. More than a dozen members of Lebanon’s security forces were taken captive.

Security officials say the gunmen in Arsal include fighters linked to the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that has seized territory in Syria and Iraq, as well as Syria’s al Qaeda branch, the Nusra Front.

Bombardment of the area prompted a large number of the tens of thousands of refugees sheltering in the area to flee, residents said. Entire refugee families abandoned their shelters as fires broke out in the camps, Syrian activists in the area said. Television images showed plumes of black smoke rising from the mountainous area around the town.

“They’re shelling from all directions,” said Qassem Al-Zein, a Syrian doctor at the field hospital in Arsal, adding that the hospital had recorded 17 civilians killed so far, including refugees hit by the shelling. The wounded numbered 150, up to 15 of whom were militants, he said.

Lebanon, a Mediterranean country of about 4 million people that borders Israel, has struggled with the shockwaves of Syria’s three-year-old conflict, whose sectarian dimensions echo those of its own 1975-90 civil war.

Suicide attacks, car bombs, gun battles, kidnappings and rocket fire have plagued Lebanon, but the confrontation in Arsal has been the biggest direct clash between its army and rebels fighting to overthrow Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

Lebanon’s militant Shi’ite group Hezbollah had deployed its fighters around Arsal, a Sunni town sandwiched between Syrian government-controlled territory and Lebanese Shi’ite areas sympathetic to the group, a source said on Saturday.

Syrian activists in the town said Hezbollah appeared to have been involved in the fighting, but this was not possible to verify and the group did not comment on that point.

Hezbollah fighters have regularly taken part in battles against the Sunni rebels just over the border in Syria’s Qalamoun region for months, helping the Assad government forces to flush out insurgents from towns and villages near the border.

In its first statement on the crisis, Hezbollah said on Sunday that it stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the military as it confronted what it said was a threat to the “unity, sovereignty and stability” of Lebanon.

MUTUAL RECRIMINATIONS

Lebanon has been buffeted by the same waves of conflict that have brought about the rise of hardline Sunni militants in Syria and Iraq. On Sunday, Islamic State fighters seized Iraq’s biggest dam, an oilfield and three towns.

Kahwaji said Lebanon’s army would resist any attempts to import Syria’s war into his country.

Earlier on Sunday, fighting erupted briefly in Lebanon’s main northern coastal city of Tripoli, where Syria’s war has enflamed decades-old tensions between local Sunnis and Alawites.

Soldiers battled masked gunmen overnight and into Sunday after militants opened fire on army positions in several areas of the port, the National News Agency said. A bomb also targeted an army patrol, wounding an officer and a soldier, it said.

Officials across Lebanon’s political spectrum have condemned the Arsal attack, but in a sign of the country’s own deep tensions some also took the opportunity to criticize their foes.

Jamil al-Sayyed, a Shi’ite and former head of Lebanon’s General Security agency, said responsibility for what was happening in Arsal fell on the Sunni-led Future Movement bloc.

Former prime minister Fouad Siniora, a Sunni, called for Syrian gunmen to withdraw from Lebanon but also said Hezbollah fighters must leave Syria.

Beirut’s perennial political deadlock has been worsened by tensions over Syria – Lebanon has been unable to elect a president since May because of disagreement over a candidate between its main Sunni and Shi’ite-led parliamentary blocs.

TINDERBOX

Arsal has long been a tinderbox for Lebanon’s tensions. Rebels operating across the border in Syria’s mountainous Qalamoun region have frequently crossed the porous border, often resting or seeking medical treatment in town.

Lebanon is hosting more than one million refugees who have fled Syria’s conflict. More than 100,000 of them are estimated to be living in and around Arsal in makeshift camps spread throughout the surrounding hills.

Saturday’s fighting started after Lebanese security forces arrested Emad Jumaa, a rebel commander popular among the hardline Islamist fighters in the area.

Soon afterward, gunmen seized the police station, attacking army checkpoints, taking at least 16 members of Lebanon’s security forces captive and demanding that Jumaa be freed. Kahwaji said the army had suffered 10 dead and 25 wounded, while 13 were still missing and may have been taken hostage.

A Twitter account that regularly publishes news from the Nusra Front, Syria’s al Qaeda branch, said the group had no links with Jumaa, but Nusra fighters had entered the area to help care for and protect refugees wounded by Lebanese army shelling.

The statement said the Nusra Front had not clashed with the army – although other groups had – and that its fighters were “ready to leave Arsal if the situation is resolved as soon as possible”.

Lebanese military vehicles have deployed around Arsal and shelled the area while Syrian warplanes have been bombing rebel positions in the town’s environs, residents say.

“The situation is bad,” Arsal’s mayor Ali al-Hujeiri said when reached briefly by phone. “Very, very bad.”

Yahoo/ Reuters

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56 responses to “Lebanese army tries to expel Syria-linked militants from Arsal”

  1. Fauzia45 Avatar

    All of these militant armed groups should ^roll back^ to where they come from !!!!!!

    1. nagy_michael2 Avatar
      nagy_michael2

      i agree and that includes hezbollah who goes there and provoke them and use the army to fight them. in return the soldiers get killed and it will turn them against the sunnis populations. Thanks to Nassrallah who said himself they saved lebanon from these rebels.. stop the B.S.

    2. You mean to Israel, UK and USA right?

      1. $89733098 Avatar
        $89733098

        But not to Iran, Russia and Syria/Lebanon?
        I forgot ur terrorists r “resistance” fighters.

        1. Igor Chingoski Avatar
          Igor Chingoski

          You are forgetting that this whole mess was started by Israel using USA and England like they do in a war to divide and defeat the whole region, They are using inside Syria the same terrorists they used in Libya and Iraq all started like this:

          Just Remember that when Lebanon and Syria Re-established Diplomatic relations in 2009, We opened Our Embassy in Syria and Syria opened theirs in Lebanon respecting each other autonomy,

          Stating that Shebaa Farms are Lebanese.

          This is what Israel didn’t like because goes against their greed for keeping the Golan Heights and Shebaa farms, And this is why USA the UK and Israel harvested from Turkey an insurrection to topple Bashar Assad, Israel Don’t want anybody to have peace in the region is goes against them, Israel always will try to divide the region fomenting civilian unrest and rivalry the same way is been during many years, is a war of divide and defeat and is time for everyone to see what is really behind all this innocent bloodshed, is Evil.

          Lebanese army maps published in 1961 and 1966 specifically pinpoint several of the Shebaa Farms, including Zebdine, Fashkoul, Mougr Shebaa and Ramta, all of which are designated as being lebanese. Lebanese Ministry of Tourism maps also show the Lebanese-Syrian border running west of the Shebaa Farms. Syria has officially acknowledged the Farms are Lebanese.

          Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms belong to Lebanon. Assad told a news conference in Paris before ending a state visit to France, Beirut and Damascus will demarcate their countries’ border at Shebaa Farms after Israel withdraws from the region. They will then submit a new map to the UN.

          1. arzatna1 Avatar

            We are good at blaming the whole world for our troubles, but in real fact we are the problem but we have been raised to be spoilt and indifferent and refuse to accept responsibility for our mistakes .
            As one Lebanese minister was quoted as saying recently : “One Lebanese is worth 100 Americans , but 100 Lebanese are worth ‘ nothing’” ….Zero ….
            This is why we are a zero country . We are good at blaming others but we are also great at eliminating each other and this is why as a group we are worth nothing .

            Time for the Lebanese to think Lebanon , teach our children to be proud Lebanese not followers of foreign countries ‘ agendas.
            We should all unite around our state and its institutions , otherwise forget about a future Lebanon

          2. 5thDrawer Avatar
            5thDrawer

            The only institution is Baabda … and it can’t make up it’s mind.

          3. Igor Chingoski Avatar
            Igor Chingoski

            I don’t agree with You, here I am making reference in how this started and You are digressing from the main point, I am not evading to fight against any enemy, but for that I have to identify who is the enemy, in this case those You think are Your allies in reality are Your enemies, besides that bastard who said that 100 Lebanese are worth nothing is out of line and NO Patriotic Lebanese should say that.

          4. 5thDrawer Avatar
            5thDrawer

            “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

          5. arzatna1 Avatar

            I fail to understand your conclusion that Syria respects Lebanon’s autonomy as a result of having embassies. Have you ever heard the Syrian ambassador talk? He acts like the governor general of Lebanon and unfortunately many Lebanese cheer him for this type of behavior . Syria never respected Lebanon’s autonomy , because it still believes that Lebanon and Syria are one country with 2 governments . This is why we still don’t have a president …. many Syria followers think Assad was reelected to run both countries. Stay tuned

          6. Igor Chingoski Avatar
            Igor Chingoski

            You are talking Haffes el Assad hera, not Bashar’s stop blending dates with peanuts. if You fail to understand that is not My problem, I know how all started in 2009, this is the way it goes either You understand or not. Israel does NOT want peace between Syria and Lebanon, Israel wants war so We destroy each other and they take the land, is the same with the Islamic groups they want to destroy all Christians, the first step when Jews came to the region in 1948 was to burn all the files containing Christian Property and to leave all Palestine as Muslim this way Israelis can without any reproach from the World exterminate all Muslims and take the land, Yes Christians and Muslims are in Israel’s way from Palestine to the Euphrates taking Lebanon as a souvenir, that is what it is.

          7. arzatna1 Avatar

            Like father like son ,… Bashar proved to be just as cruel and ruthless as his dad .
            You keep repeating the same conspiracy theories and refuse to accept responsibility as an informed citizen to fix our problem .
            Of course if we as a nation remain divided we will be always week and since we live in a tough neighborhood between the rock and the hard place ( Israel and Syria) we better be careful. This is why we need to unite think on our own and build a modern and strong state . I hope you join me in believing in Lebanon

  2. Anti ISIS Avatar
    Anti ISIS

    God bless the LAF. I hope they exterminate each and every last one of these animals. They are a cancer which if not stopped will spread through out the middle east killing anything and everything that doesn’t believe in their satanic belief.

    1. $89733098 Avatar
      $89733098

      But of course ur hezzies r free to roam like the rats they r.

      1. Anti ISIS Avatar
        Anti ISIS

        Your terrorist will come and go and HA will still be there roaming around keeping your kind in line. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

        1. $89733098 Avatar
          $89733098

          My kind? You couldn’t help yourself, had to make it personal. Obviously that dick nasty has shoved down ur throat isn’t allowing u to get any oxygen.

          1. master09 Avatar

            He and Hend always make it personal. You do not follow what they do than you are a Jew or a terror supporter. Lol like a child I want it know and my way, NOW. But they show the brainwashed part is very clear.

          2. Anti ISIS Avatar
            Anti ISIS

            And your stupidity part is very clear. DICKHEAD

          3. Anti ISIS Avatar
            Anti ISIS

            How did I make it personal. Your such a little baby. Go find someone who cares.

          4. Anti ISIS Avatar
            Anti ISIS

            I see you have been deprived dick for a while now. I can send you Sayyed Hassan’s number if you like.

          5. Anti ISIS Avatar
            Anti ISIS

            So when you say hezzies are rats, that’s not getting personal.

    2. $89733098 Avatar
      $89733098

      Good to know ur god goes around blessing killing machines.

      1. Anti ISIS Avatar
        Anti ISIS

        I take it you support these terrorist barabie.

        1. $89733098 Avatar
          $89733098

          So if one disagrees with u then they automatically support ur enemy. Wow u and gw bush r very similar.

      2. Anti ISIS Avatar
        Anti ISIS

        Oh and btw, I knew the laf are a killing machine. Thanks for that insight.

        1. $89733098 Avatar
          $89733098

          Idiot learn English! It can’t b an insight if u already knew. Geez and to think we provide free education in this country.

          1. Anti ISIS Avatar
            Anti ISIS

            Didn’t know you were an English teacher. And a very rude one to boot.

          2. Anti ISIS Avatar
            Anti ISIS

            But that’s the thing sweet heart, I never knew until you so kindly informed me.

        2. 5thDrawer Avatar
          5thDrawer

          Yes yes .. GO GO LAF !! 🙂

          1. Anti ISIS Avatar
            Anti ISIS

            I’m glad you can find humor in the death of some of the LAF 5th. Seems your a bit tipsy, hey.

          2. 5thDrawer Avatar
            5thDrawer

            That was the ‘Team Cheer’ Farqui.

          3. Anti ISIS Avatar
            Anti ISIS

            Oh 5th, for an old geeza you do act like a child sometimes. -:)))

          4. 5thDrawer Avatar
            5thDrawer

            If I had a flag I’d fly it from my car. 🙂

          5. Anti ISIS Avatar
            Anti ISIS

            Can be arranged. All you need to do is send me your address. -:))

          6. 5thDrawer Avatar
            5thDrawer

            I’d love to Farq … but I think I’d end up with the sickly-yellow one with the cold dead hand on it … and the number of drones already tracking me would increase exponentially. :-)))

          7. Anti ISIS Avatar
            Anti ISIS

            Lol.

    3. arzatna1 Avatar

      Agreed …God Bless LAF and hope they will be able to exterminate all terrorist organizations starting with Hezbollah and al Qaeda linked militant groups. Time for Lebanon to get rid of all that kind of trash and regain our sovereignty and independence. We cannot exist as a civilized and modern nation if such backward organizations continue to roam Lebanon

  3. Leborigine Avatar
    Leborigine

    These militants will get what they deserve. This is not the syrian army you bastards, now you are dealing with a real army. Just hope everyone gets behind them!

    1. $89733098 Avatar
      $89733098

      Lmfao the LAF is a real army?? Hohoho hahaha u should become a comedian coz that was damn funny. LAF a real army hahaha. Sorry had to repeat it coz its too funny.

      1. Leborigine Avatar
        Leborigine

        Hehe, no problem. At least you saw the bright side of it 🙂

      2. Do You think is funny? does it cause You laugh the loss of life? is it funny to fight with courage and almost no weapons? what else does make You laugh? I think that those Armies who fight with honour and Lebanese pride are worth more than YOUR Mother and Father and Your origin, what is it Your Origin? is it Bordello origin? I am sure it is.

        1. $89733098 Avatar
          $89733098

          Wow somebody has hit a nerve. Take a chill pill little one or better yet go cry to a “real” army. Btw when that real army wants to prove how real it is it can always take out the trash, otherwise known as hezbsatan.

          1. wasn’t the yus who invented prostitution? is History, remember when Your Daddies had to pay the right of passage in the dessert with Your Mommy? then Your ppl wondered for 40 years and never found Disneyland until You stablished a Bordellos in the Uk and paid to Mr. Churchill with tiza for 8 Kms of land. the You where born and placed Your pic in a Lebanese site trying to get clientele.
            good luck with that.

          2. Igor Chingoski Avatar
            Igor Chingoski

            HAHAHA THEY PAID CHURCHILL WITH TIZA… PRICELESS HAHAHAHA!

          3. 5thDrawer Avatar
            5thDrawer

            You must admit it’s a great pic.

        2. $89733098 Avatar
          $89733098

          As for bordello, not everyone is like ur mum and sisters. Just coz they r cheap $2 whores doesn’t mean everyone else is. Now don’t u have some sheets u need to change for ur loved ones?

        3. Igor Chingoski Avatar
          Igor Chingoski

          Well said YeUx! Don’t pay much attention to that Charmouta, Hiye ahba men waskha bayu u O’mu, u tatoush shitonia. ;-)))

  4. 5thDrawer Avatar
    5thDrawer

    Reuters always needs to give a geography lesson … 😉
    “Lebanon, a Mediterranean country of about 4 million people that borders Israel …”
    … ‘and bloody Syria’, they should add. That’s a slightly longer border …

  5. cook2half Avatar
    cook2half

    Genocide?

    1. Anti ISIS Avatar
      Anti ISIS

      Wrong article little boy. I believe the one your looking for is “Almighty Israel kiiling innocent children”

  6. But many analysts blame Hezbollah for the violence in Arsal. According to some analysts Hezbollah, which is helping the Syrian regime in its fight against the mostly Sunni rebels is slowly but surely trying to drag the Lebanese army into the Syrian conflict by using it as its shield against the radical Islamist terrorists which could have very serious consequences for Lebanon.

  7. But many analysts blame Hezbollah for the violence in Arsal. According to some analysts Hezbollah, which is helping the Syrian regime in its fight against the mostly Sunni rebels is slowly but surely trying to drag the Lebanese army into the Syrian conflict by using it as its shield against the radical Islamist terrorists which could have very serious consequences for Lebanon.

  8. 5thDrawer Avatar
    5thDrawer

    “The situation is bad,” Arsal’s mayor Ali al-Hujeiri said when reached briefly by phone.
    “Very, very bad.”
    Did anyone try calling Tripoli tonight? I’m sure the gangs figure the LAF is too busy and they can zip back into town in the cover of darkness … their usual activity time.

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