Lebanon News

Fury as warplanes bombard areas along Lebanese border

Lebanese soldiers are seen on an armored personnel carrier on the road leading to Arsal in northeast Lebanon Wednesday March 19, 2014. (The Daily Star/Nidal Solh)

BEIRUT: Fresh Syrian airstrikes hit Lebanon’s border areas of Arsal and Wadi Khaled Thursday, security sources said.

The attacks sparked the anger of residents and prompted officials to ask the Lebanese Army and the government to take action.

The first strike hit the area of Wadi Ajram, around five kilometers from the border, at 9 a.m., security sources told The Daily Star, adding that the size o the explosion indicated that it may have been caused by a barrel bomb. The area is located near the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal in northeast Lebanon.

Twenty minutes later, two other airstrikes hit the area of Kherbet Younin, also close to Arsal, the sources said. A further four airstrikes hit Kherbet Younin at 11:45 a.m. A Syrian child was wounded in the airstrikes.

The airstrikes are likely targeting rebels fleeing the Qalamoun area in Syria, where regime troops have taken control, the sources said.

The outskirts of Arsal have been subjected to dozens of Syrian airstrikes since the Syrian army, backed by Hezbollah fighters, retook the rebel bastion of Yabroud in Qalamoun.

Meanwhile, the sound of artillery bombardment and machine-gun fire reverberated across the northern border as Syrian aircraft were seen circling the northern frontier.

Sources said several rockets hit towns bordering the north Lebanese town of Wadi Khaled as Syrian regime forces captured the nearby historical citadel of Crac des Chevaliers in s.

The National News Agency said several homes were hit by Syrian shelling, but there were no reports of casualties among civilians.

Angry residents briefly blocked the road to the Abboudieh border crossing and to Halba, in Akkar, in protest at the Syrian shelling of Wadi Khaled.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk pleaded with the protesters not to seal off roads, to ensure that Lebanese and Syrians who were wounded by the shellingwould be able to reach hospitals.

President Michel Sleiman made a series of phone calls Thursday inquiring into the details of rocket fire and bombardment suffered by Lebanese towns and villages in the north and the Bekaa Valley region, according to a statement released by his office.

Sleiman said it was “unacceptable” that the Lebanese population was consistently caught in the Syrian fighting.

“It is required of those rivals [in Syria] to stop making Lebanese regions a target of their shells and aerial and artillery bombardment because Lebanon cannot go on bearing this,” he said, asking the Army to work on controlling the border.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea also condemned the Syrian army’s attacks on Arsal and Wadi Khaled Thursday.

“This bombardment is a blatant violation of Lebanese sovereignty, not justified by any logic at all, especially since the Lebanese Army is present in these areas and is struggling to carry out [its] duties fully,” he said in a statement.

He also urged the current government to take “all necessary measures” to prevent the reoccurrence of such incidents, including filing a complaint to the Arab League and the U.N. Security Council.

On the same day, a man was kidnapped in Baalbek in eastern Lebanon, security sources said.

Two gunmen riding in a pair of SUVs blocked George Tahmezian’s path as he was getting into his car and kidnapped him by the Dar Al-Ajaza Al-Islamia Hospital in the town of Shleefa.

Tahmezian’s brother Ara received a phone call soon after from an individual demanding a $50,000 ransom. He then held a meeting at the Baalbek Diocese for Melkite Catholics in the presence of Archbishop Elias Rahal.

Rahal said: “In case George does not return home, we will take escalating steps, which could mean closing the diocese in Baalbek.”

Tahmezian’s family and a number of residents of nearby Darwiss blocked the road with burning tires in protest at the kidnapping.

Meanwhile, heads of security services decided to strengthen coordination between the Army and Internal Security Forces and to take a series of measures to heighten security in several areas across Lebanon.

The decisions came during a security meeting held at the office of Army chief Gen. Jean Kahwagi to discuss the latest security developments in the country. The officials deliberated on the latest security developments, particularly in Tripoli and the eastern and northern borders of Lebanon.

Attending were Kahwagi; acting police chief Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous; General Security Director-General Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim; the head of Army intelligence, Brig. Gen. Edmond Fadel; head of the ISF Information Branch Col. Imad Othman; and Director-General of State Security Maj. Gen. George Karaa.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 21, 2014, on page 3.




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