Eight Lebanese soldiers were killed in clashes with gunmen that continued overnight in and around the border town of Arsal near Syria, a Lebanese army statement said Sunday.
"The army continued its military operations throughout the night and this morning in Arsal and its environs, as it pursued armed groups and clashed with them," the statement said.
Four wounded troops were sent Sunday to a hospital in Hermel, according to The Daily Star’s correspondent in the town.
Lebanese army units continued their attacks with heavy artillery on the militants’ bases in the mountainous outskirts of the village.
Lebanese security officials told Reuters Sunday that at least 11 militants and three civilians had been killed in the fighting and that around 16 members of the security forces had been taken hostage.
Security sources said that most of the gunmen attacking the army came from refugee camps inside Arsal and its outskirts.
Syrian armed groups Saturday killed two Lebanese soldiers in an attack on a checkpoint in Wadi Hmayyed, northeast Lebanon, as the Lebanese army freed two troops kidnapped earlier in the area.
Tensions have risen dramatically in the Bekaa Valley after an army arrest of a Syrian militant sparked a standoff Saturday afternoon in Arsal, with armed men laying siege to government facilities in the border town, demanding the release of the captive.
After several hours of intermittent gunfire and a tense standoff, militants stormed the police station in Arsal, taking control of the building and releasing several Syrian detainees held there, a security source told The Daily Star. The source said two civilians were killed while trying to prevent the militants from attacking the station.
Al-Nusra Front's YouTube channel posted a video allegedly showing members of the Internal Security Forces announcing their defection "from the Lebanese army and Hezbollah."
The clashes in Arsal also sparked tensions in the northern city of Tripoli, where gunmen attacked army posts and vehicles in the city, wounding two soldiers.
The army had released a statement Saturday, accusing the armed groups launching the attacks of implementing a plan against Lebanon.
"What happened today is the most dangerous incident Lebanon and the Lebanese have ever faced, because it's made clear that there is someone planning and preparing to attack Lebanon as well as planning to sabotage the Lebanese Army and the residents of Arsal," the statement said.
Army sources say the operation against the gunmen will continue until armed presence in the village is eradicated.
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