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8 dead, dozen captured in rebel raid on Lebanon

August 3, 2014
Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels killed eight Lebanese soldiers and claimed Sunday to have captured a dozen security force members in a cross-border raid, the most serious spillover of violence yet into the tiny country from its neighbor's civil war.

The capture, claimed in an online video, raised fears Lebanon could become further entangled in the Syrian civil war and could worsen already-brewing sectarian tensions.

The fighting began Saturday in the eastern Lebanese border town of Arsal, some 90 kilometers (55 miles) from the capital, Beirut. Local television footage Sunday showed wailing ambulances racing into town and soldiers standing guard just outside its limits. The Lebanese military sealed off the area, preventing reporters from approaching the town.

Lebanon's state news agency said fighting Sunday focused around an army barracks in the town's center. The fate of its residents and the Syrian refugees living remained unclear.

Saturday's raid began hours after the army said troops detained Syrian citizen Imad Ahmad Jomaa, who identified himself as a member of the Nusra Front. The state-run National News Agency said Jomaa was detained as he was being brought to a hospital in Lebanon after being wounded while fighting Syrian troops.

The Nusra Front is one of the most powerful groups fighting to overthrow the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The Lebanese military said the rebels killed at least eight soldiers since fighting began. A video uploaded to an account associated with the Nusra Front showed the dozen captured security force members announcing their defection to the group. But the men appeared uncomfortable as they repeated similar statements, saying they defected from the army and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group whose forces are fighting in Syria in support of Assad.

The video of the men's capture appeared authentic and corresponded with Associated Press reporting on the attack in Arsal. A Lebanese army spokesman said he could not immediately comment.

Syria's civil war has spilled over into Lebanon on multiple occasions, and inflamed sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites, leaving scores dead. However, previous rebel raids never went so deeply into Lebanese territory. Rebels also directly challenged Lebanese security forces for the first time in their assault on Arsal.

Lebanon's Sunni and Shiite communities have lined up on opposing side of Syria's civil war. Sunnis, including those in Arsal, broadly support the Sunni rebels fighting against Assad. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees live in and around Arsal and rebels sometimes use the town as a base. Shiites typically back Assad.

Jomaa was wounded as an ambush took place in Syria that killed dozens of opposition fighters Saturday, activists said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian troops and members of Lebanon's Hezbollah group ambushed the rebels in the Qalamoun region that borders Arsal.

Government troops backed by Hezbollah fighters have seized nearly all the strategic Qalamoun region since launching an offensive there last November, severing rebel supply lines from neighboring Lebanon. Over 170,000 people, mostly combatants, have been killed in Syria in more than three years of fighting, activists say.


Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.


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