The Lebanese army shelled militant positions in Arsal’s environs, security sources said, while witnesses said Syrian warplanes had bombed rebel positions in the area.
NUSRA FRONT LEADER DETAINED
Saturday’s violence began after Lebanese authorities arrested a Nusra Front leader, Emad Jumaa, at a checkpoint near town, security sources said. In response, masked gunmen fanned out in the area and stormed the police station. One Nusra Front fighter told Reuters the fighters would not leave the station until Jumaa was released.
The Lebanese army said soldiers and policemen had been seized from their homes by the gunmen, who had taken them hostage to demand the release of “one of the most dangerous detainees in army custody” – an apparent reference to Jumaa.
The Lebanese army said in a statement it “would not allow any party to transfer the battle from Syria to its land”.
Local television showed military vehicles loaded with soldiers in fatigues rolling down the road in the area of Arsal as ambulances with sirens blaring drove in the other direction.
Officials across the political spectrum, divided largely along Lebanon’s own sectarian fault lines, condemned the attack.
Nabih Berri, the Shi’ite speaker of parliament, urged Lebanese to “unite behind the army and security forces”, in a statement published by the National News Agency.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a Sunni, called for Syrian gunmen to withdraw from Lebanon and for Arsal to be put under control of the security forces – but also said Hezbollah fighters must leave Syria.
Perennial tensions between politicians have been worsened by Syria’s war. Lebanon has been without a president since May because lawmakers have been unable to settle on a candidate suitable to both its main Sunni and Shi’ite-led factions.
In a statement on its Twitter account, the United States embassy condemned the attack and said “dissociation” was Lebanon’s best defense against regional conflict.