Lebanese army battles Syrian militants in Arsal

Published March 2nd, 2015 - 06:30 GMT

The Lebanese army continued to repel attempts by Syria-based militants to infiltrate Lebanese territories in search for safe havens after the military succeeded last week in regaining two strategic hills in northeast Lebanon. The army Sunday foiled an infiltration attempt by jihadi militants near the northeastern town of Arsal, a security source said.

The security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said heavy clashes erupted around 9:30 a.m. Sunday in the Wadi Hmayyed area on the outskirts of Arsal, which resulted in the death of several militants.

Resident from the northern neighborhoods of Arsal told The Daily Star they heard the sounds of intense artillery fire by the army for at least 30 minutes Sunday morning.

Another security source explained that the army’s recent victory against militants in Ras Baalbek and its repositioning in the eastern town has forced the militants to find other safe havens.

An army statement Sunday said troops raided stone quarries and carpentry shops on the outskirts of Arsal in Wadi al-Hosn, where militants had taken refuge, and destroyed their fortifications.

The military said army soldiers found cannabis, syringes, military equipment and a sum of money inside the fortifications.

Last Thursday, an army operation drove jihadi militants off of two strategic hilltop positions along the northeastern frontier with Syria, in a pre-emptive operation aimed at protecting residents of border villages from extremist groups.

The army had said that its troops managed to “wrest full control” of the hilltop positions of Sadr al-Jarash and Harf al-Jarash, northeast of Tallet al-Hamra on the outskirts of the village of Ras Baalbek.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk over the weekend praised army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi for a “timely decision” to oust Islamist militants from two strategic positions along Lebanon’s border with Syria.

Machnouk said that “had it not been for the courage of the army commander, then this achievement would not have taken place.”

“What is more important is the fact that the right decision was taken at the right time,” he said.

The army chief vowed last week to crush Syria-based jihadis threatening to destabilize Lebanon, as troops geared up for possible retaliatory attacks by militants in response to their expulsion from two key positions on the northeastern border with Syria, a senior military official said.

The army commander traveled to Ras Baalbek Friday along with Defense Minister Samir Moqbel to meet with troops in what was seen as a morale-boosting visit to Army units deployed around the mainly Christian town and other areas near the border with Syria.

Also over the weekend, General Security arrested two Syrians in south Lebanon with alleged affiliations to ISIS, the state-run National News Agency said.

Ali Abed Awad, 41, and Mohammad al-Ali,19, were both arrested in the town of Kfar Joz in the southern district of Nabatieh, the state-run National News Agency reported Saturday. It said that the two suspects confessed during interrogations to fighting alongside ISIS in Syria.

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