Lebanon fears that Syria's civil war will spill into their borders
Two Lebanese soldiers killed in recent conflict
Neighboring Syria, Lebanon fears that the chaos wrought by the civil war there will spill into their borders. A huge influx of Syrian refugees, coupled with recent clashes between Lebanese army units and radical Islamists fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have all fueled new fears.
Beirut has struggled over the past several months to contain the repercussions from Syria. By far the biggest concern is there will be a clash between the Lebanese Shia militia, Hezbollah, which backs Assad, and the country's Sunni Muslims, who support Syrian Sunnis fighting to oust Assad.
A recent clash in the town of Arsal near the Syrian border left two Lebanese soldiers dead. The incident between the Lebanese army fighters aligned with Jabhat al-Nusra, a Jihadist group has prompted pledges of a crackdown from Lebanese army commanders.
"Any hand that aggresses the army will be cut off," army commander Jean Kahwagi declared. "We will pursue the attackers wherever they are," he added.
According to General Khawaja, the clash in Arsal came after Islamist fighters fired on an army patrol trying to hunt down a wanted Jihadist leader. Lebanese Sunnis in the Arsal area claim the fighting was due to increased friction between the army and local residents, most of whom are Sunnis.
Khaled Daher, a member of the Lebanese parliament and critic of the government, says the army targets Sunni towns like Arsal because "they support Syrian rebels" and help Syrian refugees fleeing the war in Syria.
In addition, Lebanese officials say there have been more al-Nusra fighters streaming into Lebanon to use as a base where they can re-supply themselves. Officials also report an increase in foreign Islamist fighters transiting the country on their way to fight in the Syrian conflict.
In the past, Lebanon and Syria have shared a complex web of sectarian ties and rivalries. Tensions are rising in the north of Lebanon and the army has had to step in more than half-a-dozen times to quash fighting in Tripoli between Lebanese Sunni gunmen loyal to the Syrian rebels and pro-Assad Alawites or Shiites.
Leaders in Tripoli believe there is little chance to prevent further spillover from Syria's civil war. They also say they are heavily involved in the Syrian conflict, supplying one side or the other with fighters, weapons and intelligence information.
© 2013, Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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