HERMEL, Lebanon: Three Lebanese Army soldiers were killed Tuesday in an attack on their checkpoint in the eastern border town of Arsal, security sources told The Daily Star.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said unidentified gunmen opened fire on a military checkpoint in Wadi Hmeid on the outskirts of Arsal around 3:30 a.m., killing three members of the Army's 6th Brigade.
In a statement, the Army said the soldiers were killed in a clash after gunmen attacked their checkpoint.
“A group of gunmen in a black jeep attacked a military checkpoint in Wadi Hmeid at 3:30 a.m.,” the military said. The three soldiers were killed in the clash that followed the attack, it said.
The Army identified the fatalities as soldier Mohammad Radwan Sharafeddine, 26, from Akkar, north Lebanon, and conscripts Mustafa Khaled al-Hayek, 23, from Dinnieh, north Lebanon, and Ali Adnan Monzer, 21, from the Bekaa.
President Michel Sleiman, according to a statement from his office, said the killings were part of a “series of terrorist and criminal acts that seek to provoke strife in the country and [target] soldiers who are working to prevent such strife.”
Sleiman, who contacted Army head Gen. Jean Kahwagi to offer condolences, discussed the details of the incident with military chief.
“He urged that an iron fist be used against anyone targeting the Army, security services, civil peace or [anyone] seeking to sow strife,” Sleiman said, according to the statement.
All three soldier died of various gunshot wounds including to the head, chest and stomach, a doctor at Universal Hospital in Ras Baalbek told The Daily Star.
Some local media said the soldiers were brutally beaten before they were shot. However, security sources denied the reports.
They said soldiers manning the checkpoint rapidly responded to the attack, damaging the windshield of the black Hummer the gunmen were driving. The armed group managed to escape and then later crossed the border into Syria, the sources added.
The Army, in its statement, said a wide-scale search is under way in Arsal for the gunmen "who fled to barren mountains nearby."
Tuesday’s attack was the second on the Lebanese military in the border town this year.
In February, gunmen ambushed an Army patrol in Arsal, killing Capt. Pierre Bashaalani, 31, and Sgt. Ibrahim Zahraman, 32. That ambush came after the military arrested fugitive Khaled Hmayyed, a resident of Arsal, who was killed during a clash with the patrol.
Deputy Mayor of Arsal Ahmad al-Fliti condemned Tuesday’s incident, calling it “an attack on every Lebanese.”
He said the Army had since the February ambush established several checkpoints along Arsal’s eastern outskirts close to the border with Syria.
“There are many questions about the circumstances leading up to the attack,” Fliti told The Daily Star.
He urged the Army to issue a communiqué to clarify what took place.
Schools across Arsal closed Tuesday in protest over the killing. A delegation of teachers is expected to visit the Army headquarters there later in the day to express support and solidarity.