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Thousands flee as Lebanese battle Syrian militants

Associated Press

LABWEH, Lebanon (AP) -- Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees were fleeing in packed cars and pickup trucks on Monday from an eastern border town that was overrun by militants from neighboring Syria.

The exodus came as Lebanese troops sent reinforcements in their struggle to purge Arsal of the Syrian extremists.

The clashes are the most serious spillover of violence from Syria's civil war into Lebanon, compounding fears that tiny Lebanon is fast becoming a new front in its neighbor's conflict, now in its third year.

The three-day fighting in Arsal, a predominantly Sunni town surrounded by Shiite villages, could worsen already-brewing sectarian tensions in Lebanon. The army has vowed to expel the militants from the town - an ambitious task considering the porous nature of the Syria-Lebanese border and the political and sectarian divisions within Lebanon.

So far, at least 11 Lebanese troops have been killed and 13 soldiers are missing in the Arsal clashes, which erupted Saturday after Syrian militants made a cross-border raid and overran army positions in the area.

Residents fleeing Arsal said they made use of a relative lull between midnight and Monday morning to pack up and leave. Heavy fighting then erupted and black smoke could be seen billowing over the town, which the Lebanese army sealed off to media.

Cracks of heavy gunfire and the thud of shells could be heard from a distance as tanks pounded rebel positions in and around Arsal. A dozen Lebanese army flatbed trucks were seen carrying tanks toward the outskirts of Arsal on Monday.

Among those fleeing was Aziza Rayed, in her 60s, who said her family was going to the nearby border town of Qaa.

"We are leaving to take these children to a safer place," she said, her children and grandchildren in the back of a pickup truck.

Syrian refugees who had earlier fled the war at home for Arsal's safety were among those fleeing Monday. One of them, Fatmeh Meshref from the Syrian central city of Homs, said she and her husband and five children were terrified.

"Our children were screaming and we had no place to hide," she said.

Lebanon Army Fights to Expel Militants from Border Town

The Syrian incursion and capture of Arsal came after the Lebanese army said its troops had detained Syrian Imad Ahmad Jomaa, who identified himself as a member of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front - one of the most powerful rebel groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops.

The state-run National News Agency reported on Saturday that Jomaa was detained as he was being brought to a hospital in Lebanon after being wounded while fighting Syrian troops.

Lebanese army chief Gen. Jean Kahwaji said on Sunday that the Syrian fighters in Arsal belonged to extremist Sunni groups, without naming them. He said the fighting was "more serious than what some people imagine" and called on Lebanese politicians to show unequivocal support for the military.

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jlm9 August 04 2014 at 6:56 AM

Curious to see how the world reacts to the Syrian militants killing more and more people..Seems that when Muslims kill hundreds of thousands of their own people, that is OK...but if Israel defends itself and people die, that is a war crime, crime against humanity...this just shows how biased the world is..

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8 replies
Welcome MSGT August 04 2014 at 7:08 AM

I hope this does not screw up obamas birthday golf outing. He might have to use his phone.

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7 replies
Jeremiah August 04 2014 at 8:06 AM

Another once beautiful city destroyed by Islamist terrorists.

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3 replies
troopabn August 04 2014 at 6:23 AM

Bring the Israeli Army in to help, once they crush insurgents in Gaza.

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3 replies
panellockout August 04 2014 at 8:16 AM

Come to America where Obama will welcome you if you promise to vote democrat as soon as you get the vote.

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7 replies
aristars August 04 2014 at 6:46 AM

are those the same people Obama asked for $500 million to help weeks ago? the good terrorists! those people must be crushed sooner than later! and ISIS, or the Islamic state? what the hell the world is waiting for to end that cruel joke? they have been terroryzing and killing people everyday!

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2 replies
setanta54s_back aristars August 04 2014 at 10:49 AM

TRUE MISSION of obumma and friends and CLINTUN should be crystal clear BY NOW-establish the caliphate-clintun had SUCCESS in eastern europe via bosnia etc and obuMMa hit a stop sign IN EGYPT AS THE PEOPLE WERE NOT BUYING INTO A RERUN OF SHA RRIA AND TYRANNY/so the game continues.

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Welcome Justin aristars August 04 2014 at 1:24 PM

Yes, they are the same. Nusra pledged to join the Islamic State (ISIL) at least a month ago. The Islamic State is now a confederation of terrorist groups and religious militants.

And FYI, Obama had already given them $287M plus weapons before the violence even spread to Iraq.

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Charles August 04 2014 at 7:06 AM

The UN is still asleep!!

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5 replies
xhertx August 04 2014 at 9:59 AM

Really are people brainwashed that easily by the media?? How readily they've been manipulated against the Israeli people. Virtually no one reacts to these stories about other areas in the Mid East, where the violence and killing is on a much more constant, bigger, vicious scale. Yet the big, bad Jews are picking on little Hamas and the Palestinians(people who cheered and danced after 9/11)....oh for shame!! Israel our partner in monitoring dangerous terrorists is now being stabbed in the back by a bizarre misled human rights bleeding hearts liberals. Let us disregard the fact that Israel has been attacked by Hamas rockets for years and years, and that the Palestinians elected Hamas terrorists to lead their "country"-obviously a ploy to get rid of Israel. It's also obvious that they're using the Palestinian people as shields. I am disappointed in the liberal media that I used to follow, now so misleading, brainwashing, biased and prejudiced, shame on all liberal outlets!!

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2 replies
BOB xhertx August 04 2014 at 12:49 PM

You Israelis should have thought about all of these problems when you decided to steal Palestine. Did you really think that you could walk in, use the old Jewish techniques of treachery, and murder to steal an entire country, and then say that God gave it to you?

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1 reply
Welcome Justin BOB August 04 2014 at 1:26 PM

Do you really think bigoted hatred and historical revisions are going to change anything now ?

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mesager42 xhertx August 04 2014 at 2:31 PM

Get a clue about Israel - it takes billions of our taxdollars and refuses to listen to us. Israeli spies have tried to steal our secrets. Israeli is no different than any other nation. Trust them about as far as you could throw them. They lure our Jewish taxpayers away to help fund their nation's economy. They are not our friend. They are not our enemy. They do not allow any Christians in their government. All of the Palestinian Christians fled that nation the minute European Jews fled to Palestine, took over vast swathes of terrritory, renamed it Israel, and President Truman ignored his Cabinets advice, caved into a bunch of Zionists and recognized Israel as a nation. We have been targeted by Islamic radicals and have been giving welfare checks via our taxdollars ever since!

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endmillll August 04 2014 at 8:17 AM

After what happend in the 2nd world war i dont blame the jews,, i love azz kicking jews.

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attyclientpriv August 04 2014 at 7:51 AM

Now it's time for the international community to install a "heavy duty" military base in Lebanon. Failure to do so will result in the end. If Lebanon is not protected, there will be WWIII on the Israeli border sooner than acceptable.

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1 reply
jhakim attyclientpriv August 04 2014 at 3:47 PM

They already have the UN there .. Useless!

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