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Arsal kidnappings denote frail security along Lebanon-Syria border

A general view shows tents of Syrian refugees at the Lebanese border town of Arsal in the eastern Bekaa Valley, Wednesday, November 20, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

ARSAL, Lebanon: Fighters from the Nusra Front kidnapped Tuesday four Syrian refugees from the town of Arsal, east Lebanon, highlighting the presence of dangerous pockets of militants along the country's border with Syria, a security source told The Daily Star.

The kidnapping happened one day after security sources told The Daily Star that Lebanese security services are following up on information suggesting that Nusra Front cells have resumed activity and planned more terrorist attacks in Lebanon.

Nusra fighters drove to Arsal from their hideouts along Lebanon’s highly porous Syrian-Lebanese border and kidnapped three members from the Syrian Ghawi family and their guest from the Yassine family, also a Syrian.

It remained unclear whether the reasons behind the kidnapping were political or financial, the source said.

But according to the source, after the Syrian Army supported by Hezbollah forces regained control of the region of Qalamoun on the border with Lebanon, hundreds of militants were forced to flee inside Lebanese territories.

“Fighters belonging to various Syrian opposition factions, including Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the Free Syrian Army have inhabited the mountainous areas and agricultural stretches of land on the outskirts of Arsal,” the source disclosed.

The source said the fighters were on high alert in anticipation of attacks against them to be undertaken by one of three parties, the Syrian military, Hezbollah or the Lebanese Army.

The fighters have also engaged in kidnap-for-ransom operations along the border. Over the weekend, three Lebanese hunters were lightly wounded and two others kidnapped in clashes between Arsal residents and armed Syrian rebels.

The Bekaa Valley town of Arsal in the Baalbek region is known for its strong support for Syrian rebels and houses many families of Syrian rebels.

The clashes – the first of their kind – took place in the mountainous region of Rahwa, which separates Arsal from Syrian territories. The kidnapped men were later on released after Arsal officials contacted Syrian opposition groups in the area to secure their release.

Lebanon has witnessed in the past few months a wave of bombings, which mainly targeted Hezbollah-associated areas.

Most of the attacks were claimed by Syrian rebels, who said they were in retaliation for Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria alongside the regime.

The attacks came to a halt over a month ago, following an Army crackdown on terrorist cells in the country and an operation by the Syrian army and Hezbollah that drove rebels out of Syrian rebel-held territories adjacent to Lebanon.

 

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Summary

Fighters from the Nusra Front kidnapped Tuesday four Syrian refugees from the town of Arsal, east Lebanon, highlighting the presence of dangerous pockets of militants along the country's border with Syria, a security source told The Daily Star.

Nusra fighters drove to Arsal from their hideouts along Lebanon's highly porous Syrian-Lebanese border and kidnapped three members from the Syrian Ghawi family and their guest from the Yassine family, also a Syrian.

The attacks came to a halt over a month ago, following an Army crackdown on terrorist cells in the country and an operation by the Syrian army and Hezbollah that drove rebels out of Syrian rebel-held territories adjacent to Lebanon.


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