The Lebanese army rounded up the Syrians during raids in Bireh and Khirbet Daoud just hours after 19-year-old army private Jamal Jean Hashem was shot when a bus transporting soldiers back to their post, Lebanon’s Daily Star reported.
Several other soldiers were reportedly wounded during the attack. The connection between the arrests and Hashem’s murder were not immediately clear.
The raids on Syrians refugees in Khirbet Daoud reportedly came after Lebanese troops searched the house of a soldier who had reportedly deserted the army.
With an influx of more than one million registered refugees in Lebanon since the start of the Syrian civil war, tensions have risen in the county between locals and Syrians. Last month, Human Rights Watch urged Lebanon’s security forces and local authorities to step up protection of Syrians after it documented increasing numbers of violent attacks.
In addition to the attack on the bus, there were two other attacks on Lebanese forces early Friday morning, both in Tripoli. In the al-Bisar neighbourhood, two patrol units reportedly came under fire and an unidentified gunman tossed a hand grenade. In Zahriyeh, a soldier was wounded when an army patrol came under fire.
The Lebanese army subsequently found a 200 gram homemade bomb near a shop in Tripoli’s Abi Samra neighbourhood which was detonated.
Other attacks in recent weeks have also targeted Lebanese forces: on 23 September, gunmen shot dead a soldier in the nearby port city of Tripoli, the frequent scene of clashes between the army and Sunni extremists.
And a homemade bomb exploded in the city on 7 October killing another soldier, while a colleague died in an attack in the Akkar region two days later by gunmen on a motorbike.
“Terrorist groups are targeting the army to weaken it and … to force the army to ease the pressure in the Arsal region” of east Lebanon on the border with Syria, a military source told AFP.
Militants from the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front fought deadly battles with Lebanese troops in Arsal in August.
They withdrew after a truce to mountains outside the border town, but took dozens of army and police hostages with them as they left. Three of them have since been executed.
The Sunni militants demand the withdrawal from Syria of fighters from Hezbollah and they accuse the army of cooperating with the powerful Lebanese Shiite militant group.