ARSAL, Lebanon: Fleeing the clashes between the Army and Syrian armed groups, many residents of Arsal are leaving their town, while others are stuck in neighborhoods turned into battlefields.
A civilian Mohammad Qassem al-Fliti died after he was shot in the head by militant gunfire on his home's rooftop, a security source told The Daily Star
Also, two Syrian infants died and 23 Syrian refugees were wounded as a result on the ongoing clashes, the source added. The wounded refugees were being treated at one of Arsal's field hospitals.
According to The Daily Star correspondent in the area, there is a steady stream of cars leaving Arsal, carrying families who are afraid of the escalation of clashes inside the town.
“Whoever is able to flee is not hesitating, but we cannot flee because the clashes are taking place just down the street,” Mohammad Hujeiri, a Lebanese resident of Arsal told The Daily Star by phone.
“The clashes have become extremely violent since an hour ago [12:30 p.m.], and especially here in west Arsal,” he said, describing the sounds of bombs and armed clashes shaking his neighborhood.
Residents of areas witnessing heavy clashes have been moving to safer neighborhoods inside Arsal, while others have left the town completely. Those leaving the town are mainly heading to Baalbek, or to other nearby villages such as Ras Baalbek and Fakiha.
However, some residents said they faced difficulty leaving. Merhi Fliti told The Daily Star that Arsalis were unable to leave the town due to the presence of "armed men from Labweh" blocking the only road connecting Arsal to the Bekaa Valley.
Labweh’s Mayor Ramez Amhaz rejected these accusations, telling The Daily Star that “the road from Arsal is fully opened and numerous cars have been bringing families to Labweh.”
“We don’t consider them immigrants; they should think of Labweh as their home and we will host them in our hearts,” he said. “We know that if they weren’t obliged too, they wouldn’t flee their own town.”
Stressing that many of those fleeing Arsal have relatives or own residences in Labweh, Amhaz said he is “not concerned about the expansion of clashes into his town,” saying that he is mainly concerned with the well-being of the Lebanese Army soldiers.
“Cooperate with the Army and the state, because this is the Army of all [Lebanese] and he is protecting you from the terrorists,” Amhaz said addressing those who chose not to leave Arsal.
The highest concentration of clashes lies in Wadi Hmayyed, where Syrian armed groups killed two Lebanese soldiers Saturday in an attack on a checkpoint, along with Mabyada and Masyada, also bordering Syria.
An Army checkpoint in a valley in Shoob, a neighborhood on the entrance to Arsal, has also been the target of excessive sniper fire by militants, who are deployed on the hills surrounding the checkpoint.
The clashes have so far resulted in at least 11 deaths among Army troops, and the kidnapping of 16 Internal Security Forces and 13 Army soldiers.
However, an Army unit was able to free two wounded soldiers after raiding a house in which they were apprehended, arresting many Nusra Front militants.
The extremist Nusra Front had posted a YouTube video allegedly showing 20 Lebanese Internal Security Forces members “announcing their defection from the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah.”