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Syrian jets attack east Lebanon

  • A Syrian army fighter jet raids the northwestern town of Maaret al-Numan on October 19, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC)

ARSAL, Lebanon: Syrian jets and helicopters fired four rockets at targets inside Lebanon Monday, sparking the condemnation of the international community, who called the violation an “attack on Lebanon’s sovereignty.”

The bombing took place days after Damascus warned Lebanon that it would attack suspected rebel sites if incursions from across the border into Syrian territory continued.

The U.S. State Department strongly condemned the attack and expressed concerns that the spillover of violence from Syria would have detrimental effects on the stability of Lebanon.

“We can confirm ... that regime jets and helicopters did fire rockets into northern Lebanon, impacting Wadi al-Khayl, near the border town of Arsal,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters.

“This constitutes a significant escalation in the violations of Lebanese sovereignty that the Syrian regime has been guilty of. These kinds of violations of sovereignty are absolutely unacceptable,” Nuland added.

Nuland said that U.N. resolutions called for “the strict respect” of Lebanon’s sovereignty, adding that U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly has followed up on the incident with the country’s government and military.

France for its part condemned the Syrian raid and with Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot describing it in a statement as a “new serious violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty.”

The deputy mayor of the town of Arsal in the Bekaa Valley, Ahmad al-Fliti, told The Daily Star that the Syrian jets fired rockets on the border villages of Khirbet Youneen and Wadi al-Khayl, approximately 5 kilometers into Lebanese territory, causing only material damage.

The two sites are reportedly used for farming but have been suspected of being used as channels for smuggling arms and gunmen into Syria.

“This attack seems to be the beginning of something bigger. The hills that were targeted [on the outskirts of Arsal] were attacked under false pretenses,” a security source told The Daily Star.

In a letter sent to Lebanon’s Foreign Affairs Ministry last week, Syria said its troops were still exercising self-restraint by not striking “concentrations of armed gangs inside Lebanese territory in order to prevent them from crossing into Syrian territory.

“But this will not last indefinitely,” the letter said.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for France’s assistance in improving the Lebanese Army’s capabilities to control Lebanon’s borders.

In a telephone conversation with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the Lebanese premier “reiterated Monday his demand for France to support the Lebanese Army and strengthen its capabilities.”

For his part, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, MP Walid Jumblatt, said that the Lebanese government needed to review its disassociation policy before the security situation in the country spiraled out of control.

“We call for a reconsideration of the policy of disassociation to prevent the consequences of the Syria crisis from entering Lebanon and to prevent being dragged into internal clashes in Syria. Because [not doing so] would lead to a deepening of divisions and increased disputes at more than one level [in Lebanon],” Jumblatt said in his weekly article in Al-Anbaa.

Jumblatt added that the disassociation policy was “fading gradually to the point where it has become a point of view.”

The PSP leader also accused Iran of seeking to involve Hezbollah, its chief ally in the region, in the 2-year-old conflict in Syria.

“The insistence by the Islamic Republic on turning the rifle of the resistance [Hezbollah] away from its principal purpose of defending Lebanon and confronting Israel, drowning it in a war with the Syrian people, comes at a time when Western channels of dialogue have opened with it over the nuclear issue and its regional role,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 19, 2013, on page 1.
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