Syria rebels raid Lebanese town, capture troops

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Syrian Rebels Attack Lebanon
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Syria rebels raid Lebanese town, capture troops
Lebanese army reinforcements arrive to the outskirts of Arsal, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees packed cars and pickup trucks Monday, fleeing an eastern border town that was overrun by militants from neighboring Syria as Lebanese troops fight to liberate the area. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Lebanese army soldiers stand guard near military vehicles and armored personnel carriers at an entrance to Arsal, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees packed cars and pickup trucks Monday, fleeing an eastern border town that was overrun by militants from neighboring Syria as Lebanese troops fight to liberate the area. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Gunmen drive away with about a dozen men, two in camouflage police uniforms, in Arsal, a Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Saturday, Aug 2, 2014. Rebels fighting in Syria’s civil war crossed into Lebanon and raided a border town Saturday, killing and capturing security force members in the most serious incursion into the tiny country during its neighbor’s 3-year-old conflict. (AP Photo)
Lebanese army reinforcements arrive at the entrance of Arsal, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees packed cars and pickup trucks Monday, fleeing an eastern border town that was overrun by militants from neighboring Syria as Lebanese troops fight to liberate the area. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
A Lebanese army soldier stands guard on the outskirts of Arsal, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees packed cars and pickup trucks Monday, fleeing an eastern border town that was overrun by militants from neighboring Syria as Lebanese troops fight to liberate the area. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
A Lebanese army soldier walks past military vehicles and armored personnel carriers on the outskirts of Arsal, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees packed cars and pickup trucks Monday, fleeing an eastern border town that was overrun by militants from neighboring Syria as Lebanese troops fight to liberate the area. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Lebanese army soldiers prepare to deploy toward Arsal, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees packed cars and pickup trucks Monday, fleeing an eastern border town that was overrun by militants from neighboring Syria as Lebanese troops fight to liberate the area. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Smoke billows from Arsal, a Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Saturday, Aug 2, 2014. Rebels fighting in Syria’s civil war crossed into Lebanon and raided a border town Saturday, killing and capturing security force members in the most serious incursion into the tiny country during its neighbor’s 3-year-old conflict. (AP Photo)
Smoke billows from the Lebanese town of Arsal, a Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Saturday, Aug 2, 2014. Rebels fighting in Syria’s civil war crossed into Lebanon and raided a border town Saturday, killing and capturing security force members in the most serious incursion into the tiny country during its neighbor’s 3-year-old conflict. (AP Photo)
Gunmen drive away with about a dozen men, two in camouflage police uniforms, in Arsal, a Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Saturday, Aug 2, 2014. Rebels fighting in Syria’s civil war crossed into Lebanon and raided a border town Saturday, killing and capturing security force members in the most serious incursion into the tiny country during its neighbor’s 3-year-old conflict. (AP Photo)
This Sunday July 6, 2014 photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows weapons that SANA says were captured by Syrian government forces in Kafr Saghir, outside Aleppo, Northern Syria. Syrian troops advanced inside and near northern Aleppo on Monday in what appears to be an attempt to lay siege to rebel-held parts of the country's largest city, activist said Monday. (AP Photo/SANA)
This Sunday July 6, 2014 photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows weapons that SANA says were captured by Syrian government forces in Kafr Saghir, outside Aleppo, Northern Syria. Syrian troops advanced inside and near northern Aleppo on Monday in what appears to be an attempt to lay siege to rebel-held parts of the country's largest city, activist said Monday. (AP Photo/SANA)
This photo provided by the anti-government activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian man carrying a wounded girl following a Syrian government airstrike at Karm al-Jabal area in Aleppo, Syria, Thursday, June 26, 2014. Syrian warplanes struck the area in the northern province of Aleppo, killing and wounding dozens of people, activists said. (AP Photo/Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)
This photo taken on Wednesday, June 25, 2014, and provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrians inspecting the rubble of a damaged houses following a Syrian government airstrike in Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)
This photo provided by the anti-government activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrians inspect an area amid the rubble of destroyed buildings following a Syrian government airstrike at Karm al-Jabal area in Aleppo, Syria, Thursday, June 26, 2014. Syrian warplanes struck the area in the northern province of Aleppo killing and wounding dozens of people, activists said. (AP Photo/Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)
FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 file photo, Syrian rebel fighter Tawfiq Hassan, 23, a former butcher, poses for a picture, after returning from fighting against Syrian army forces in Aleppo, at a rebel headquarters in Marea on the outskirts of Aleppo city, Syria. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf petro-powerhouses encouraged a flow of cash to Sunni rebels in Syria for years. But now they face a worrying blowback as an al-Qaida breakaway group that benefited from some of the funding storms across a wide swath of Iraq. Gulf nations fear its extremism could be a threat to them as well. But the tangle of rivalries in the region is complex: Saudi Arabia and its allies firmly oppose any U.S. military action to stop the Islamic State’s advance in Iraq because they don’t want to boost its Shiite-led prime minister or his ally, Iran. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen, File)
FILE - In this Thursday, June 12, 2014 file photo, Refugees fleeing from Mosul head to the self-ruled northern Kurdish region in Irbil, Iraq, 350 kilometers (217 miles) north of Baghdad. The militants' capture of Iraq’s cities of Mosul and Tikrit makes their dream of a new Islamic state look more realistic. It already controlled a swath of eastern Syria along the Euphrates River, with a spottier presence extending further west nearly to Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. In Raqqa, the biggest city it holds in Syria, it imposes taxes, rebuilds bridges and enforces the law _ its strict version of Shariah. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - This still image from black and white gun camera video made by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense on Wednesday, June 11, 2014, shows what the ministry says are airstrikes on fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in an area near Mosul in Nineveh province, Iraq. The militants' capture of Iraq’s cities of Mosul and Tikrit makes their dream of a new Islamic state look more realistic. It already controlled a swath of eastern Syria along the Euphrates River, with a spottier presence extending further west nearly to Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. In Raqqa, the biggest city it holds in Syria, it imposes taxes, rebuilds bridges and enforces the law _ its strict version of Shariah. (AP Photo/Iraqi Ministry of Defense)
This photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian citizens carrying a man who was injured by a government forces airstrike, in Aleppo, Syria. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sharply criticized Syria's presidential vote this week as "a great big zero," and said it can't be considered fair "because you can't have an election where millions of your people don't even have an ability to vote."(AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)
This photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian man looking at a damaged pickup which was carrying house belongings on a street that attacked by a government forces airstrike, in Aleppo, Syria. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sharply criticized Syria's presidential vote this week as "a great big zero," and said it can't be considered fair "because you can't have an election where millions of your people don't even have an ability to vote."(AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)
This photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Free Syrian Army fighters running at one of the front lines in the town of Sheikh Najjar, in Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday June 10, 2014. Fighting in eastern Syria between Islamic rebel brigades and an al-Qaida splinter group has killed more than 630 people and uprooted at least 130,000 since the end of April, an activist group said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)
This photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Free Syrian Army fighter as he prepares a locally made missile to be fired against Syrian government forces, in Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday June 10, 2014. Fighting in eastern Syria between Islamic rebel brigades and an al-Qaida splinter group has killed more than 630 people and uprooted at least 130,000 since the end of April, an activist group said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)
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By BASSEM MROUE

BEIRUT (AP) -- Rebels fighting in Syria's civil war crossed into Lebanon and raided a border town Saturday, killing and capturing security force members in the most serious incursion into the tiny country during its neighbor's 3-year-old conflict.

The rebels, who included foreign fighters, demanded to trade soldiers and police officers it captured in Arsal for some of the "most dangerous detainees," the Lebanese army said in a statement. Masked gunmen roamed the streets as Lebanese helicopter gunships flew over the town, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) from the capital, Beirut.

A Lebanese army general told The Associated Press that the gunmen attacked army positions near Arsal and troops returned fire. Another official said the gunmen also took control of the main police station in the town.

Islamic State Threatens Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia

Lebanon's state-run National News Agency reported that Arsal residents later freed police officers at the station, though rebels captured some weapons and released several detainees. It said gunmen killed two residents near the police station.

A picture posted online allegedly showed gunmen in Arsal driving away with about a dozen men, two of them in police uniforms. The photograph corresponded to other AP reporting about the attack.

Gunmen killed two soldiers and wounded several others, the National News Agency reported.

"What is happening today is among the most dangerous of what Lebanon and the Lebanese are being subjected to," the army statement said. "The gunmen kidnapped several soldiers and policemen who were spending the weekend with their families ... and demanded the release of some of the most dangerous detainees held by the army.

"The Lebanese army will not accept that its members be hostages and will not stay silent about targeting the army and Arsal residents."

The statement said the Lebanese army "will not allow any side to move the battle from Syria" into Lebanon. It added that the army "will not allow any foreign gunman to endanger the security of Lebanon or to harm its soldiers or policemen."

The Lebanese army general said earlier in the day that gunmen took two soldiers who were driving an army tanker truck. The army's later statement said the two soldiers were later freed in an army operation.

The general and the official spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to speak publicly.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam described the attack as a "flagrant aggression against the state of Lebanon" and vowed that his government "will deal with the developments with extreme firmness and strength."

Saturday's attacks came hours after the army said troops detained Syrian citizen Imad Ahmad Jomaa, who identified himself as a member of Syria's al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front. The National News Agency said Jomaa was detained as he was being brought to a hospital in Lebanon after being wounded while fighting Syrian troops.

A resident in Arsal told the AP that masked gunmen roamed the streets. The man, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, said two shells hit a small Syrian refugee camp in the town, sparking a fire.

"Clashes are continuous and people are staying in their homes," the man said by telephone as cracks of gunfire could be heard in the background. "Arsal is under the control of gunmen who are driving around."

Arsal is home to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and rebels enjoy wide support among its population. Lebanese Sunnis, such as the residents of Arsal, often back the Sunni rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Shiites, like those belonging to Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group, typically back Assad.

Syria's civil war has spilled over into Lebanon on multiple occasions and inflamed sectarian tensions leaving scores dead. However, previous rebel raids never went so deeply into Lebanese territory.

The Islamic State group, a powerful extremist rebel group in Syria, recently seized large swaths of territory in neighboring Iraq. It wasn't immediately clear whether the gunmen in Arsal intended to remain in the town, which is surrounded by Shiite villages where Hezbollah is active.

The violence in Arsal came after an ambush near Syria's border with Lebanon killed dozens of opposition fighters, activists said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said Syrian troops and members of Lebanon's Hezbollah group ambushed opposition fighters in the Qalamoun region near the Lebanese border, killing at least 50 of them. It said seven troops and Hezbollah fighters were killed in the fighting.

Government troops backed by Hezbollah fighters have seized nearly all the strategic Qalamoun region since launching an offensive there last November, severing rebel supply lines from neighboring Lebanon.

The Syrian uprising began in the form of peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad in March 2011, but escalated into an insurgency when government forces violently cracked down on dissent. Over 170,000 people have been killed in Syria in more than three years of fighting, activists say.

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