Lebanon News

Schools shut as tension rises in Hermel

A water canal separates Hosh Sayyed Ali in the Hermel region, left, from the Syrian Safsafeh area, Tuesday, April 16, 2013. The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir

HERMEL, Lebanon: Tensions escalated in Hermel and nearby towns along the Lebanon-Syria border Monday, following the weekend volley of rockets from Syria.

Schools in the city of Hermel, in east Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, and the surrounding border towns of Al-Qasr, Hawsh Sayyed Ali and Sahlat Al-Miyah were closed Monday after residents said they sensed the area could see a repeat of Saturday and Sunday’s attacks.

Five rockets landed in Al-Qasr and Hawsh Sayyed Ali and two others slammed into the heart of Hermel Sunday.

The Lebanese Army said in a statement that the 107mm rockets “caused material damage to some houses, but there were no casualties.” It added that the Army went on alert and took the necessary measures, including identifying the source of fire.

Residents of the area threatened anew Monday to take matters into their own hands should the state fail to protect them against Syrian rebel attacks.

A statement issued following a meeting of Hermel’s national and Islamic parties called on the “Lebanese state and President [Sleiman] to shoulder their responsibility in protecting their citizens.”

Fighting around Syria's Al-Qusair has intensified in the past two weeks as the Syrian military, supported by pro-government forces backed by Hezbollah, has launched a campaign to regain control of the border area.

The frontier region near Homs holds strategic value because it links Damascus with the coastal enclave that is the heartland of Syria’s Alawite minority, and is home to the country’s two main seaports, Latakia and Tartous.

Al-Qusair has been under rebel control for more than a year. Hadi al-Abdallah, an Al-Qusair-based activist, told AFP that Hezbollah fighters were instrumental to the Syrian army’s advance.

Hezbollah, which denies involvement in the fighting in Syria, has said it is helping Lebanese Shiites living in a cluster of Syrian border towns and villages to defend themselves against rebel assaults.

Hermel residents said Monday heavy clashes could be heard around Al-Qusair in the Syrian province of Homs.

They told The Daily Star over the weekend that there was fear in the town that violence would spread across the border because rockets from the Syrian side are gradually falling deeper into Lebanese territory.

Meanwhile, an international rights group urged all warring sides in Syria to end “indiscriminate” cross-border attacks on Lebanon.

“Both the Syrian government and armed opposition fighters have said their strikes in Lebanon are aimed at armed groups participating in hostilities in Syria from Lebanon,” Human Rights watch said in report released Monday.

“During visits to the affected villages, residents told Human Rights Watch there were no military targets near the strike sites. Human Rights Watch saw no signs of military targets during site visits within days of the strikes,” the report added.

“Even if fighters are present in Lebanon, there is no excuse for any warring party to conduct indiscriminate strikes on residential areas,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“All sides need to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians.”

Many Syrian families who have settled in and around Hermel since the fighting in neighboring Syria broke out two years ago have sought refuge in safer areas of west and central Bekaa, north Lebanon as well as Beirut, a Hermel figure told The Daily Star Monday.

President Michel Sleiman was briefed Monday by caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel on the security situation in Lebanon and measures taken to maintain stability and order.





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