Lebanon News

Syria rocket attacks on Hermel raise tensions

Damage caused by a rocket from the Syrian side that landed in the northeastern town of Hermel, on Sunday, April 21, 2013. (The Daily Star/Rakan al-Faqih)

HERMEL, Lebanon: Tensions remained high in the Bekaa Valley Sunday after renewed shelling from Syria targeted the heart of the town of Hermel for the first time along with other border areas.

Hermel residents told The Daily Star there was “an actual fear” in the town that violence would spread across the border because rockets from the Syrian side are gradually falling deeper into Lebanese territory.

One rocket fell near a school in Hermel Sunday and five others landed in, al-Qasr which has become the target of heavy shelling and Hawsh Sayyed Ali.

For the first time since the uprising against President Bashar Assad, two rockets hit separate locations in Hermel Saturday night, causing only material damage while five others fell in the Syrian border town of al-Qusair which is mostly inhabited by Lebanese Shiites.

The rocket attacks came amid reports that regime forces are advancing in al-Qusair with the help of Hezbollah fighters. The party has said it is helping Lebanese in the Syrian border town to defend themselves against rebel assaults.

President Michel Sleiman followed-up on the developments in the border towns with the head of the Lebanese Army Gen., Jean Kahwagi.

Sleiman's office quoted the president as saying that "targeting Lebanon with missiles and rockers does not achieve demands related to democracy particularly that Lebanon is already burdened with what it can’t, bear which is hosting Syrians and sheltering them."

He added that Lebanon is working on controlling the border in accordance with the Baabda Declaration

The president asked the Army and concerned officials to take the measures needed to prevent further attacks on Lebanon, and protect the safety of its citizens.

On Saturday, residents of the village al-Qasr in Hermel said they received text messages from Syria warning them via that the Free Syrian Army would bombard the village and the town of Hermel.

Most shelling has targeted border areas, but the weekend attack described by Hezbollah as a dangerous precedent, was 15 kilometers inside Lebanese territory.

Saturday’s rockets fell in the garden of Hasan Nasreddine’s house and the other damaged the second floor of a house belonging to Hussein Nasreddine. The two homes are approximately 300 meters away from each other.

Security forces and the Lebanese Army cordoned off the areas and inspected the damages.

The military has yet to release a statement related to the attack.

Residents of al-Qasr have vowed not to receive or treat wounded Syrians if shelling on their village continues.

FSA and regime forces have said that they would respond to sources of fire coming from Lebanese territory.

Rebel groups, and Al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, have warned they would move the battle to Lebanon if Hezbollah continued to fight alongside Syrian soldiers.

On Saturday, three rockets from the Syrian side of the border fell on the outskirts of al-Qasr, with no casualties reported.

Hezbollah MP Nawwar Sahli said the shelling of Hermel is “a very dangerous development” in remarks published Sunday.

“This is a very dangerous development which targeted a center belonging to the Lebanese Republic, and divine intervention prevented a massacre in the town because the location where the rockets fell is [heavily] populated,” he told An-Nahar.

He said the Lebanese government should follow up on the issue and called on the Army to "take necessary measures to respond to sources of fire."

The Syrian opposition accuses Hezbollah of fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is grappling to deal with a relentless uprising since it began two years ago.

But the Lebanese party maintains it is only helping Lebanese residents of Syrian border villages defend themselves against attacks it accuses the Syrian rebels of staging.

Speaking to reporters at the site of where the rockets fell, Sahli said “the rocket attack on Hermel neighborhoods is a desperate reaction by defeated mobs that didn’t preserve the historical and geographic ties between Hermel and Syria.”

He also noted that Hermel is hosting thousands of Syrian refugees, saying whoever fired the rockets is targeting their own people and warned of retaliatory measures if similar attacks persist. -With additional reporting by Dana Khraiche





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