BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army said Friday one officer and a soldier were killed in an ambush on a military patrol that was attempting to apprehend a wanted man in the east Lebanon town of Arsal.
“In the afternoon, and while an army patrol in the outskirts of Arsal was pursuing one of several wanted men for acts of terror, the [patrol] was ambushed and clashes occurred between members of the patrol and gunmen that led to the martyrdom of an officer holding the rank of captain and a soldier as well as the wounding of a number of military personnel,” the army said in a statement.
The army said a number of gunmen were also wounded in the fighting.
In response to the ambush, the Army dispatched a large contingent to the area, where a security cordon is in place, the military said, adding that it conducted extensive searches for the gunmen.
Earlier Friday, security sources told The Daily Star that at least four soldiers were among five killed in an ambush by gunmen on a military patrol in Arsal.
They said at least six other members of the military were wounded in the clashes.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said one officer was among the four soldiers killed in the ambush by gunmen in the town that borders Syria.
The fifth fatality was a gunmen, the sources said, adding that the incident was triggered by a Lebanese Army Intelligence attempt to arrest Khaled Hmayyed, a resident of Arsal.
Hmayyed was killed during clashes with the Army Intelligence. In retaliation, gunmen in the area ambushed the Army, the sources said.
The National News Agency said Hmayyed was wanted in the case of the seven Estonians who were kidnapped in Lebanon and later released in 2011.
Members of the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch were able to transfer the bodies of three soldiers and six of the wounded to the Universal Hospital in Baablbek, the sources said.
Arsal Mayor Ali al-Houjairi said that the army patrol that came to arrest Hmayyed had done so without any coordination with dignitaries from the town.
“The army came to the town dressed in civilian clothing and the residents thought it was a gang that killed Hmayyed and not the authorities,” the mayor told the LBCI television station.
He added that Hmayyed was not a “terrorist.”
In its statement, the Army urged Arsal residents to cooperate fully with the measures that the military will be taking in its efforts to apprehend the gunmen involved in the incident.
It also warned that it would not be lenient “with any attempt to smuggle or hide the gunmen, and those caught committing such acts will be subject to legal prosecution.” - Additional reporting by Jana El-Hassan and Thomas El-Basha