Eight Lebanese soldiers have been killed in clashes with fighters in eastern Lebanon, near the border with Syria, which erupted after a suspected self-declared jihadist was detained, according to the Lebanese army.
In a statement, the army said its operations against the fighters in the Arsal region continued into Sunday morning, adding that “during the battles the army lost eight martyrs and a number of others have been wounded”.
The violence began on Saturday after troops reportedly detained Imad Ahmed Jumaa, a Syrian man accused of belonging to al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front.
The army said in a statement on Saturday that it detained Jumaa at noon, and security sources and local residents said unidentified fighters began to surround local army checkpoints shortly afterwards.
The fighters temporarily gained control of a police station in the town, killing two soldiers and two civilians before the army recaptured the building, security sources and state media said.
The NNA news network said the soldiers were killed in attacks on checkpoints, and the army acknowledged “deaths and injuries” among its ranks but without giving further details.
Two soldiers were kidnapped earlier at the Wadi Hmeid post, but were later freed by the army.
Arsal, a Sunni town where tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to escape fighting across the mountainous border, has seen frequent spillover from Syria and has been a tinder box for domestic tensions in Lebanon.
Syrian warplanes have bombed Arsal’s surrounding areas and rebel fighters often cross the porous frontier, sometimes resting or seeking medical treatment in Arsal.
The Lebanese army pledged on Saturday “decisive and firm” action to prevent the Syrian conflict from spilling over into Lebanon.
The army specifically warned of the seriousness of the situation in Arsal.
“The army will not allow any party to transfer the battle from Syria to its [Lebanon’s] territory,” it said.
“The army will be decisive and firm in its response and will not remain silent as foreigners try to turn our land into a field for crime and terrorism, murder and kidnapping.”
In other violence on Saturday, just across the border in Syria’s Qalamoun region, the forces of President Bashar al-Assad killed at least 50 rebels, including from the Nusra Front.