BEIRUT: Reports that militants with hit lists have returned to the Lebanese border town of Arsal are false, local officials said Monday, after rumors spread that Syrians who clashed with the Lebanese Army earlier this month were attacking locals for collaborating with the military.
“Untrue reports, circulated by certain media to revive rumors alleging that Arsal is harboring armed groups hostile to the military and security institutions, were instigated by parties who are not happy with the arrangement that ended the standoff with the Army,” Arsal Mayor Ali Hujeiri told The Daily Star.
Hujeiri accused unnamed partisans in the village of stirring tensions to place Arsal once again on a collision course with security and the military, in an apparent reference to Hezbollah and its supporters.
He said the “issue of return of the gunmen” to Arsal was brought back into the limelight through the propagation of lies by “certain groups who had wished for a more radical and firmer end” to the clashes, which pitted the Army against militants from Syria’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
At least 60 militants and 19 soldiers were killed in the five days of clashes, which erupted on Aug. 2 after militants overran Arsal, a town on Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria. The militants pulled out a week later under an agreement brokered by the Committee of Muslim Scholars but took 29 captured security and Army personnel with them.
Echoing the mayor’s comments, Future Movement representative Bakr Hujeiri denied any militants had returned to the town. He explained that instead a number of gunmen “sought to take revenge and settle accounts” of an old feud between a family from Arsal and Syrian refugees, in which people from both sides have been killed.
For his part, Khaled Zeidan, a prominent Arsal local, described the report that the militants had a hit list of Army collaborators as a sham.
“If that was true, all of Arsal’s residents would be on that list, because they all collaborated with the national Army, and have sided with the military institution right from the beginning,” Zeidan said.