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Syrian warplanes strike Lebanese territory

March 18, 2013|By Patrick J. McDonnell
  • Lebanese activists in Beirut light candles as they hold Syrian revolutionary flags during a rally to mark the second anniversary of the revolt against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Lebanese activists in Beirut light candles as they hold Syrian revolutionary… (Wael Hamzeh / European Pressphoto…)

This post has been updated. Please see note below.

BEIRUT — Syrian warplanes bombed a remote area of Lebanon along the border with Syria on Monday, just days after the Syrian government warned that its patience was wearing thin with the cross-border traffic of weapons and rebel fighters.

No one was reported injured in the strike near the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal in eastern Lebanon.

The longtime smuggling zone has become a corridor for weapons and personnel destined for opposition forces in Syria, where armed rebels are seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

Last week, the Syrian government warned that it was losing patience with the infiltration of arms and fighters from Lebanon. Monday’s midafternoon attack seemed to underscore Damascus’ resolve to strike back.

The Lebanese national news service reported that Syrian warplanes bombed two rural areas outside Arsal. The Reuters news agency said Syrian jets fired four rockets.

[Updated 3:45 p.m., March 18:  In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that “regime jets and helicopters” fired rockets near Arsal. “This constitutes a significant escalation in the violations of Lebanese sovereignty that the Syrian regime has been guilty of,” Nuland said.

The United States has called on Assad to step down.]

The Syrian military has previously fired shells into Lebanese territory, in some cases causing casualties. The frontier zone has also been the frequent site of firefights and cross-border kidnappings linked to the civil conflict in Syria, which is in its third year.

The Syrian tumult has deeply divided Lebanon, with some factions supporting Assad’s government and  others calling for its ouster. More than 400,000 Syrian refugees have fled into Lebanon, taxing public resources.

Officially, the Lebanese government has adopted a policy of “disassociation” from the conflict in Syria. But many Lebanese officials fear that Syria’s fighting could spill across the border, destabilizing their nation’s fragile governance structure.

Inside Syria, the military has made extensive use of artillery and air power to put down the rebellion. Clashes have regularly flared near border areas, with apparently errant projectiles landing in neighboring Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

In the most notorious incident, mortar shells fired from Syria in October were blamed for the killing of five Turkish civilians in the southeastern border  town of Akcakale. That incident prompted Turkey to adopt the  policy of responding with artillery fire into Syria whenever shells from Syria landed in Turkish territory.

The Syrian conflict has left at least 70,000 dead, according to United Nations estimates.

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Special correspondent Nabih Bulos contributed to this report.

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