File - Fawaz Bitar, a former Lebanese soldier, looks through binoculars towards a mountain range dividing Lebanon and Syria in Rashaya, Oct. 29, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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An air of unease stalks the picturesque Druze villages and towns clinging to the steep stony hills and mountains of the Rashaya district in southeast Lebanon. Recent fighting between Syrian Druze loyal to the regime of President Bashar Assad and the militants of the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise, on the other side of Mount Hermon from Rashaya has rattled nerves. The two Lebanese and Syrian Druze communities lie only a few kilometers apart, separated by the imposing Mount Hermon which towers over the surrounding landscape, its lofty summit already dusted with the first of the winter snows. Even before last week's outbreak of clashes near the Druze village of Arneh on the eastern slopes of Mount Hermon, there has been much speculation that extremist groups in Syria, namely the Nusra Front, could seek to gain a foothold in the Sunni town of Shebaa, 20 kilometers south of Aiha, replicating the situation found in the Arsal area where several hundred militants are holed up in the adjacent mountains.According to Druze residents of the Rashaya area, the Syrian army informed the Druze NDF in Arneh that it planned to attack local Nusra Front forces.
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