HERMEL, Lebanon: Clashes raged between Hezbollah and Nusra Front gunmen along the northeastern border Thursday, as the party’s fighters carried on with efforts to eliminate remaining pockets of Syrian rebels in the area.
Syrian jets and Hezbollah bombarded the area stretching from the mountainous outskirts of Arsal to the village of Nahleh, a security source told The Daily Star.
Hezbollah fighters also clashed with members of the Nusra Front in the area Wednesday evening, the source added.
A Nusra Front member told Reuters his group had ambushed Hezbollah fighters attempting to enter Syria from two Lebanese villages Wednesday.
“We saw them trying to sneak in,” he said. “We waited for them, and when they arrived and before they were able to load their guns or rocket-propelled grenades, we attacked. Some of them escaped.”
A Hezbollah source confirmed there had been an attack and said the group had lost three fighters during the Wednesday assault.
Hezbollah held funerals for three of its members in the south and Beirut Thursday, including field commander Bassam Tabaja.
Earlier this week, seven Hezbollah fighters and 32 Syrian rebels died in clashes in the area.
Arsal and the area around it are largely Sunni, and locals sympathize with the Sunni-led uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad. The town hosts tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.
Earlier this year, Syrian troops backed by Hezbollah drove rebels out of the Syrian region of Qalamoun and the party is now trying to tighten its noose on Nusra Front fighters who fled to the border with Lebanon during the operation.
According to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV, the Syrian army said it had its guns trained on two illegal border crossings that link Arsal to the Syrian village of Flita.
Prominent figures in Arsal said in a statement issued after a meeting at the town municipality that the events along the border threatened to spill over into Lebanon proper.
“We stress that we are hosting civilian refugees escaping death and we don’t want our land to be transformed into a battlefield in which armed groups fight under the pretext of revolution and pose danger on us and on refugees in Arsal and rob and terrorize people,” the statement said.
“Whoever wants to struggle for the sake of Syria, let him join the fronts in Syria.”
Attendees stressed their support for the Army’s efforts to preserve peace in Arsal. Ahmad Fliti, Arsal’s deputy mayor, told The Daily Star that the town was providing food, medicine and treatment, but not weapons, to about 5,000 Syrian rebels.
“Shall we tell the rebel: ‘We don’t want to give you bread because you are a fighter? When there are groups crossing the border to kill and displace them?” said Fliti, in reference to Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria.
“It is a battle open to all possibilities. It is possible that Hezbollah fighters will enter Arsal or Syrian rebels will attack Lebanese villages,” Fliti said about the clashes between Hezbollah and Syrian rebels.
Separately, Majed Mohammad Issa, a technician from the Al-Ain village, was kidnapped while working at a house on the outskirts of Arsal.