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Gunmen kill 3 Lebanese soldiers near Syrian border as tensions rise

May 28, 2013|By Patrick J. McDonnell
  • Lebanese army soldiers search civilians at a checkpoint at the entrance of Arsal, a Sunni Muslim town in eastern Lebanon near the Syrian border.
Lebanese army soldiers search civilians at a checkpoint at the entrance… (Bilal Hussein / Associated…)

BEIRUT -- Gunmen killed three Lebanese soldiers near the Syrian border early Tuesday, Lebanese authorities said, the latest apparent instance of cross-over violence from the conflict in neighboring Syria.

Fears are running high that Syria’s civil war could destabilize Lebanon, which shares a long and porous border with Syria and has close cultural and political ties to its bigger neighbor.

The killings come two days after a pair of rockets struck a southern neighborhood of Beirut, injuring four people. Meanwhile, gun battles have been raging in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli between factions on different sides of the Syrian conflict, leaving more than two dozen dead in the past two weeks.

The three soldiers were killed Tuesday during an attack on their checkpoint shortly after midnight in the eastern border town of Arsal, the Lebanese government said. The area is a hub for weapons smuggling and a transit point for combatants seeking to join Syrian rebels fighting to oust the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The gunmen fled "to an unknown destination," the Lebanese national news agency reported.

Local media reported that the attackers escaped in a vehicle bound for Syria.

The attack was the second this year in the area targeting Lebanese army forces.

In February, two soldiers were killed in an assault on an army patrol in the Arsal area, in the northeast Bekaa Valley.

The volatile zone has been particularly tense in recent days because of ongoing battles in the nearby Syrian city of Qusair, which is situated a few miles across the Syrian-Lebanese frontier.

The Syrian military, backed by militiamen from the Lebanese group Hezbollah, has launched a major assault on Qusair, long a rebel stronghold. Lebanese militiamen have been fighting on both sides of the sectarian-fueled battle for Qusair.

The Lebanese government has maintained an official policy of neutrality about the conflict in Syria.

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