AKKAR/BEIRUT, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army beefed up its troops on the northern borders with Syria Tuesday night in line with a plan approved by Cabinet the night before, security sources told The Daily Star.
The sources said that the Army began reinforcing its positions around midnight Tuesday, and was expected to finish by Wednesday morning.
The reinforcement comes after a series of artillery shells from Syria crashed into Lebanese border villages. In the latest incident, shells from Syria hit several north Lebanon towns Monday night, damaging houses. Several people were wounded by gunfire from the Syrian side of the border.
The United States State Department strongly condemned the shelling and urged Syria to preserve the sovereignty of neighbor countries.
Over 20 shells fell along a 10-kilometer-long line that begins in Wadi Khaled and extends to the village of Debabiyeh in Akkar. The border villages of Mqayble, Al-Hishah and Nura were also hit.
In Nura, one man died of a heart attack during the shelling. As the projectiles fell, two Syrians were also killed when their motorcycle crashed into another car on the Debabiyeh-Nura road.
Residents of several Akkar villages fled their homes Monday night, returning Tuesday morning to check on their possessions.
The Lebanese Army said Tuesday that a number of Lebanese were wounded as a result of the exchange of fire along the portion of Wadi Khaled that borders Syria.
“There were intermittent exchanges of fire on the Lebanese-Syrian border in the Wadi Khaled area between Syrian forces and armed individuals, and a number of shells fell inside Lebanese territories, wounding citizens,” the Army said in a statement.
It added that Army units already deployed in the region had intensified their patrols, set up new checkpoints and responded in kind when fired upon.
“The same units continue to strengthen security measures so as to monitor and neutralize the source of fire,” the statement said.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency reported Tuesday that troops and border guards in several parts of the mountainous area of Talkalakh foiled attempts by “armed terrorist groups” to sneak into Syria from Lebanon Monday night.
Over the weekend, two people, including an 8-year-old boy, were killed and 10 were wounded in north Lebanon as a result of shelling from the Syrian side of the border.
The Cabinet approved a plan Monday to boost the presence of the Lebanese Army along the northern border with Syria and highlighted the need to take all necessary measures to control border areas. The decision came in light of repeated Syrian incursions into Lebanese territory and cross-border shelling.
France expressed its support Tuesday for the Cabinet’s decision.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero called on Syria to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty and the integrity of its territories in line with U.N. resolutions.
Valero condemned Syrian shelling of Lebanese territories Monday night and the security incidents which occurred on the border over the past days.
For its part, the Future Parliamentary bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in a statement after its weekly meeting that the Cabinet’s decision to deploy the Army on the borders with Syria is an “appropriate” and overdue step.
“The Cabinet’s decision to deploy the Army along the northern borders is an appropriate step which should have been taken a long time ago in line with the residents’ demands and will protect them against mounting aggression by the Army of the Syrian regime and its Shabbiha against Lebanese territories and people,” the statement said.
Convening under former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at Hariri’s Downtown Beirut residence, the bloc said that the government’s move will put an end to accusations that arms and gunmen are being smuggled from Lebanon into Syria, as well as “false” talk of any intention to turn north Lebanon into a buffer zone with Syria. The bloc said that it both rejects and condemns the idea of such a zone.
The bloc reiterated its support for the Army and the Internal Security Forces, “which are the main tools the Lebanese rely on to restore the role of the state and boost the security and stability of the Lebanese.”
Several months after the outbreak of the uprising against Syria’s President Bashar Assad in March 2011, Syrian authorities accused a Future Movement MP of arming and funding rebels who were fighting regime troops.