ARSAL, Lebanon, Aug 7 – Lebanon’s army and militants clashed on Wednesday, in breach of a ceasefire, aimed at ending five days of fighting in the most serious spillover of Syria’s civil war onto Lebanese soil.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Saudi’s King Abdullah, granted US$1 billion, to help the Lebanese army to bolster security, as they battle militants, who have seized the border town of Arsal on the Syrian frontier, state news agency SPA reported.
Machine gun fire and shelling broke out on Wednesday, on the outskirts of the town, in breach of the 24-hour truce, which came into force at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) on Tuesday.
Dozens of armoured-personnel carriers and tanks were seen on the road, heading towards the Arsal area. Lebanese special forces were also being deployed on Wednesday, arriving at the town of Labwa near Arsal, where hundreds of soldiers are stationed.
“The ceasefire is continuing, but we are responding to any violations,” a security official said.
Ambulances were seen exiting from the last army checkpoint before Arsal. Around 30 prisoners, with their hands tied behind their backs, were driven out of Arsal by the army in a truck.
The majority were young men and many were wearing red kaffiyeh scarves on their heads. A security official and a doctor in Arsal said, many militants had now fled Arsal for surrounding mountains following the army bombardment.
Arsal is the first major incursion into Lebanon by hard-line militants, which threatens the stability of Lebanon by inflaming its own sectarian tensions.
While Lebanon has officially tried to distance itself from Syria’s conflict, the country’s powerful Shiite movement, Hezbollah, has sent fighters to aid Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad.
At least 17 soldiers have been killed and 22 are missing, from the violence in and around Arsal. Reports from inside the town suggest scores of people have been killed there.
Advancing Lebanese troops found the bodies of 50 gunmen, security sources said.
Arsal’s Mayor, Ali Hujeiri, speaking by phone, said, the gunmen were on the outskirts of the town. “There was a ceasefire, but it is not being implemented,” he said, adding that there appeared to be more militants in the area.
“The army is still there, the gunmen are still there, and the ones suffering are the civilians.”
The militants have been identified by officials as members of the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, and of the Islamic State, which has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria.
Rebel sources said, several members of the Islamic State had been killed in the Arsal fighting, including senior leader, Abu Hassan Al-Homsi, who had been in charge of setting up booby traps and explosions. Another leader of Jordanian origin was also killed in the fighting, the rebel sources said.
Local officials in Arsal said, it was completely surrounded by the army, apart from a corridor, apparently left for gunmen who want to retreat.
Saudi news agency SPA said, former Lebanese prime minister, Saad Al-Hariri, announced the Saudi aid, after meeting King Abdullah in Jeddah late on Tuesday.
The King “has issued an order to provide aid to the Lebanese army and the national security (forces) to the value of US$1 billion, to support their ability to maintain the security and stability of Saudi Arabia’s sister country, Lebanon,” said Hariri, cited by SPA.