Lebanon fears violent backlash after fall of Yabroud

Published March 17th, 2014 - 08:37 GMT

Fears rose in Lebanon on Monday that gunmen, who have fled into Lebanon after Syrian government troops and Hezbollah fighters captured Yabroud, a strategic town near the frontier, would increase retaliatory attacks against the supporters of the Shiite party.

The first alleged retaliation came on Sunday when a suicide bomber driving a Grand Cherokee left several casualties in the town of Nabi Othman, about 30 kilometers north of Baalbek.

A group calling itself the Baalbek Ahrar al-Sunna Brigade claimed responsibility on Twitter for the bombing.

"Prepare for the transfer of the battle of Yabroud into Lebanese territory," it said.

Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon also claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter, describing it as "a quick response to the Iranian party's (Hezbollah's) bluster following its extortion of the town of Yabrud."

Yabroud was a major smuggling hub for the rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad. The town's fall is the latest in a string of strategic gains by Assad's forces that have consolidated authority in the past months in Syria's major cities, including the capital, Damascus.

Hezbollah fighters have been instrumental to Assad's success on the battlefield, and support from the Iranian-backed fighters appears to have tipped the balance into the government's favor in Yabroud.

However, the fact that opposition fighters fled into Lebanon through the northeastern town of Arsal suggests the conflict could bleed further into Syria's neighbor.

The civil war already has ignited polarizing sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites.

As Safir daily quoted informed security sources as saying that “more than one suspicious vehicle could have entered Lebanon” to carry out a bombing.

The sources warned that the armed groups, which fled Yabroud to Arsal, “could resort to more retaliation.”

But the Lebanese army has taken strong measures to prevent the infiltration of the gunmen from Arsal to other Lebanese areas, military sources said.

The sources told As Safir that the army units deployed in the Bekaa Valley would take all necessary measures to prevent chaos.

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