Lebanon army battles gunmen near Syria border
Lebanese soldiers advance towards Arsal - REUTERS/Hassan Abdallah

BAALBEK, Lebanon: Lebanese troops clashed with gunmen Thursday in a mainly Sunni Muslim area near the Syrian border where there was deadly fighting with rebels from over the frontier three weeks ago.

“Gunmen fired on an army checkpoint in the Aarsal area before dawn, without causing any casualties,” a security official said.

“Clashes are ongoing,” the official said, speaking early afternoon.

“The army has responded with artillery and Grad missiles,” the official added.

The Aarsal area is a mainly Sunni enclave within Lebanon’s largely Shiite Bekaa valley region and hosts tens of thousands of Sunni refugees from neighboring Syria.

The area’s inhabitants are overwhelmingly sympathetic to the more than three-year-old Sunni-dominated uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and are widely suspected of smuggling both weapons and fighters across the border.

Troops clashed with Syrian rebels in the area on Aug. 2 after the army detained a leading jihadist.

Several days of fighting killed 19 soldiers, 16 civilians and dozens of jihadists.

It ended with a truce negotiated by Lebanese Sunni clerics, but the jihadists withdrew from the area taking 24 police and soldiers hostage.

Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front has demanded that Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah end its intervention in Syria in support of Assad’s forces as a condition for their release.

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