BAALBEK, Lebanon: One Lebanese soldier is missing after his four comrades were rescued from a militant ambush on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal Thursday morning, according to the Army.
In a statement, the Army said that the militants had ambushed a five-strong unit in the border village of Al-Rahwe, prompting other units to launch an offensive against the gunmen and rescue four.
The Army said its soldiers also destroyed an armored vehicle belonging to the militants that was equipped with an anti-aircraft missile and killed and wounded an unspecified number of gunmen.
However, a security source told The Daily Star that one soldier had died and three others were wounded in the clashes that ensued after an Army vehicle came under fire in the remote village.
The Army then rushed reinforcements to the village and Arsal to prevent a militant advance, the source added. Armored vehicles and military trucks, carrying dozens of soldiers, were seen driving through the main entrance of Arsal and heading toward its outskirts.
According to the Turkish new agency Anadolu, ISIS and the Nusra Front, which are already holding 29 soldiers and policemen captured earlier this month in Arsal, have denied taking any soldier captive during Thursday’s clashes.
The military was bombarding militant positions in Aqabat al-Jurd Thursday afternoon, hours after the military shelled hideouts in Wadi Hmeid, Wadi Zaarour and Aqabit Nouh, in the deep highlands of Arsal, security sources said.
The sources said Hezbollah also fired rockets from Miqraq and Zabboud, near the Bekaa Valley town of Labweh, on the same militant positions overnight. There was no immediate word on casualties.
Heavy clashes broke out after midnight between Hezbollah fighters backed by Syrian regime forces and rebels, according to the sources, who said the fighting centered in Lebanese territory facing the Syrian border town of Flita.
Sources in the eastern town of Hermel said Syrian warplanes dropped barrel bombs on areas where many Syrian opposition fighters were entrenched, including the outskirts of Arsal, Wadi Hmeid and Ajram.
The overnight shelling was the first confrontation between the Army and militants since ISIS and Nusra Front retreated from Arsal following five days of deadly clashes earlier this month.
The militants are holding 29 Lebanese soldiers and policemen captive. They are demanding that Lebanon release Islamist prisoners held in Lebanese jails in return for the soldiers' freedom.
Meanwhile, an armed Syrian was killed and two others were wounded after a van carrying 10 Syrians and three Lebanese crossed into Lebanon illegally through the Wadi Ata village in Rashaya, east of the country, according to a security source.
Although the group failed to stop at a military checkpoint, it was not clear whether the Lebanese Army or a group of local gunmen fired at the van.
Army Intelligence arrested the wounded Syrians and Lebanese men.