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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs