Lebanon News

Unknown Syrian rebel group claims responsibility for weekend ambush

Lebanese army soldiers man a checkpoint following tensions after the killing of four Lebanese men in Bekaa, June 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Rami Bleibel)

ARSAL, Lebanon: Residents of Arsal condemned Wednesday the killings of three Lebanese and a Turkish national, after a previously unknown Syrian rebel group claimed responsibility for the weekend ambush. A statement issued from the town of Arsal, where municipal officials and mosque preachers met in an emergency session to discuss the incident, issued a strong condemnation of “the crime that occurred [in Wadi Rafeq] which claimed the lives of four innocent martyrs from our beloved neighbors.”

Two men from the Jaafar clan, one from the Ahmaz clan and a Turkish national, whose mother is Lebanese, were killed in an ambush Sunday in the Wadi Rafeq region of the Bekaa Valley, near the Syrian border.

The statement from Arsal said the officials were also meeting after the only entrance to the town from the village of Labweh was closed in the wake of the incident.

“We urge the security forces to pursue their investigations and track down the suspects and bring them to justice,” the statement said.

Residents also urged the authorities to keep the town safe, prevent abuses and reopen the roads. They asked that leading figures in the area work together to avert future dangers by “using the language of reason and logic and having patience and wisdom.”

Officials from Arsal said they were “putting all of their capabilities at the disposal of the security forces.”

They also commended the stances taken by President Michel Sleiman, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament, as well as the efforts of the Army, in the wake of the incident.

Separately, gunmen briefly kidnapped a farmer identified as Ziad Nasrallah, in nearby Baalbek. Nasrallah was released shortly after.

Later that day, gunmen driving two vehicles opened fire on a van that was driving on the Labweh road. The National News Agency said the gunmen riddled the van and removed the driver, identified as Hussein Hujeiri, before beating him and leaving the scene.

According to a video posted on YouTube Tuesday, a group calling itself the “Mujahedeen Battalion stationed along the Syria-Lebanon Border” claimed responsibility for the weekend killings.

The video shows a group of three masked men, calling itself the “Mujahedeen Battalion stationed along the Syria-Lebanon Border,” standing in front of a table upon which weapons and the personal identification documents of the dead men are displayed.

“The Battalion dealt with a car belonging to Lebanon’s Hezbollah as it tried to enter Syrian territory, destroyed the car and killed four members on it,” one of three armed and masked men said in the video, which could not be independently verified.

However, caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel dismissed the claims made in the YouTube video.

“This is the first time we hear of [this group],” Charbel told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

“The people who were killed had no connection to any [political] party and had not been fighting in Syria,” he added, referring to Hezbollah’s announced military participation in the Syrian war.

“Their truck broke down as they were traveling toward Lebanon, not Syria, and this is proven by the investigation,” Charbel said.

Separately, a group of tribal figures from the Wadi Khaled region of Akkar paid condolences to the Jaafar clan, according to the Central News Agency.

The Wadi Khaled tribesmen said they denounced the crime that “took the lives of two dear martyrs from the Jaafar family.”

The delegation warned against the dangers of civil strife in the wake of the attack, due to the fear that the Jaafars or other tribes would retaliate for the murders.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 20, 2013, on page 3.

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