News / Middle East

Lebanon Deploys Troops to Halt Syrian Jihadist Spillover

FILE - Lebanese army soldiers patrol the Sunni Muslim border town of Arsal in an armored vehicle.
FILE - Lebanese army soldiers patrol the Sunni Muslim border town of Arsal in an armored vehicle.

Lebanese security forces say a tip from U.S. intelligence agencies enabled them to pre-empt an assault planned by Syrian jihadists on predominantly Shi’ite Muslim villages in the Bekaa Valley. The intelligence disclosure is part of a mounting Western effort to help Lebanon’s army curb violent sectarian spillover from Syria’s civil war, analysts say.

The plan called for raiding Lebanese villages and kidnapping locals as bargaining chips to free Islamist prisoners from Lebanese jails, according to Lebanese security officials.

Such an attack would risk stoking sectarian flames in Lebanon, which analysts say groups such as al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are keen to do.

Both jihadist groups have been behind a string of suicide bombings in Lebanon. And both have warned of more attacks in Lebanon to retaliate for its military’s support of Hezbollah, the militant Shi’ite movement backing Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

In April, Syrian forces joined Hezbollah fighters in launching what they said would be a final offensive in the Qalamoun region, stretching from the Syrian capital of Damascus west to Lebanon’s border.  Syrian government forces have retaken much of the rugged, sparsely populated region but appear unable to break down major pockets of fierce rebel resistance.

In recent days, violent clashes between Syrian forces and rebels have spilled from Syria west into Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, with much of the fighting in Qalamoun. Last week, for instance, Hezbollah fighters and Syrian insurgents clashed in the valley. On Wednesday, Lebanese security forces searched the surrounding mountains for Sunni militant infiltrators from Syria.

An estimated 3,000 Syrian insurgents have been using remote Lebanese border regions as a base for attacks on Syrian government forces and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

Some Sunni Muslim politicians blame Hezbollah for the Syria-related violence episodically striking Lebanon.

“When Hezbollah entered Syria, they brought upon themselves a big problem and dragged the country to battles which we did not need,” said Issam Araji, a Sunni Lebanese lawmaker.

Lebanon shifts elite military units

To combat the rising jihadist threats, Lebanon recently redeployed crack military units, including its 8th Mechanized Infantry Brigade and airborne assault teams. The elite units traditionally focus on curtailing volatility along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.

The operational shift led to the intelligence coup of heading off the assault, said Aram Nerguizian, a military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

Lebanon’s military has made other moves to avoid being dragged into the maelstrom of Syria’s civil war. For the past year, with help from the United States and United Kingdom, it has built up roughly a dozen watchtowers and other fortifications stretching roughly 170 kilometers, or 106 miles, along the rugged, traditionally lawless border. 

The observation posts, close enough to offer overlapping views, are equipped with surveillance systems and other defenses against threats such as rocket-propelled grenades, Nerguizian said. The Lebanese Armed Forces have “worked hard to rapidly bring online its border forces to manage growing instability from Syria.”

He said its efforts aren’t “so much about policing the border but denying space in Lebanon” from which Syrian rebels can launch operations against Assad.

While the watchtowers are in mainly unpopulated areas only used by refugees fleeing Syria, smugglers and rebels, the LAF’s increased presence in recent weeks in the villages and towns of the Bekaa Valley prompted mixed feelings.

Local Shi’ite Muslims and Christians welcome the army, according to Archbishop Elias Rahal of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. “The army’s operation is echoing positively.”

Local Sunni Muslims and their politicians, though, are critical, especially in Arsal, a hardscrabble Sunni town that has seen its population more than doubled, swollen by at least 40,000 Syrian refugees as well as Syrian rebel fighters.

The town’s inhabitants are highly supportive of the Syrian rebels and have long accused Hezbollah fighters of treating them with condescension.

And they argue the army is in collusion with the militant Shi’ite movement, taking action against Sunni militants but not against Hezbollah fighters.

Abed Hassan, a 24-year-old marble quarryman, told VOA that Sunnis are avoiding the neighboring Shi’ite town of Hermel for fear of violence.

“Hezbollah fighters have been mounting informal checkpoints and young Sunnis risk being seized when we travel beyond Arsal,” he said.

Earlier this month, Hezbollah mounted a military show of force in Bekaa Valley towns near Arsal with parades of military hardware and fighters.  That earned the rebuke of Sunni lawmakers, including Ahmad Fatfat.

“We were surprised to hear about this military parade by Hezbollah. This area is under the supervision of the Lebanese Army, and we were surprised that there was no reaction from security forces to what we saw,” Fatfat complained at a news conference.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: meanbill from: USA
July 26, 2014 6:33 PM
HOW MANY innocent people must die, because the US, EU, and NATO countries continue to arm and train foreign Sunni Muslim fighters in Jordan and Turkey, to wage war on the Shia Muslim led countries of Syria and Iraq? _ (IF ONLY) _ hundreds of thousands of the people killed, would be alive today?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs