Clashes Ongoing Between Lebanon's Army, Nusra Front in Ras Baalbek

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Lebanese army soldiers. Al-Akhbar/Marwan Tahtah

Published Friday, January 23, 2015

Updated at 6:45 pm (GMT +2): Heavy clashes erupted between the Lebanese army and militants near the northern Bekaa Valley border town of Ras Baalbek, a Lebanese security source said, leaving casualties on both sides.

Around 200 gunmen launched a large-scale attack on an army outpost close to the village of Ras Baalbek, near Lebanon's eastern frontier with Syria, an area that has seen regular incursions from militants fighting in Syria's war.

Sources told Al-Akhbar that two Lebanese soldiers have been killed, four wounded and five are missing.

According to Reuters, at least three militants were killed and five Lebanese soldiers were wounded in the clashes.

The army said in a statement that the clashes were ongoing in the desolate area close to Ras Baalbek and that the army was shelling positions after the attack by a "terrorist group." It did not give any details about casualties.
"(The army) tightened its control this afternoon of the hill, expelling the terrorist elements ... (and killing) a large number. The fighting killed and wounded a number of soldiers," an army statement said.

It added it would name the dead soldiers in a later statement.

However, a Lebanese security official, who asked to remain anonymous as he was not authorized to speak to the media, said nine gunmen and three soldiers had died.

It was not immediately clear which group the attackers belonged to, but Syria-based jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda's Syria branch, al-Nusra Front, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has captured large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, have attacked Lebanon in recent months.

However, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency (NNA) said the army regained control over Tallet Al-Hamra site in the vast area of Ras Baalbek mountain parallel to Ersal after fierce clashes with militants belonging to al-Nusra Front.

After the harsh confrontations with “heavy weapons,” a number of “dead and wounded among terrorists remained in the battle ground,” the NNA reported.

Meanwhile, the NNA reported that military court Judge Saqr Saqr pressed charges on Friday against three people for belonging to an "armed terrorist organization" and planning attacks. These persons were also charged with partaking in fighting in Tripoli and attacking the Lebanese army.

The border clash is the latest violence between the Lebanese military and militants on the border with Syria.

Ras Baalbek is near the town of Ersal where Islamist militants staged a deadly incursion in August. The altercation left 16 soldiers dead and 85 wounded, while dozens of jihadists are said to have been killed, along with three civilians.

Fighting ended with a truce mediated by local clerics, but Nusra and ISIS militants took with them at least 29 Lebanese army and police hostages. Four hostages have since been executed, and eight have been released.

Three months after the fighting in Ersal, Lebanese troops fought deadly clashes in October with the Islamist militants, in the northern city of Tripoli. The fighting left 42 people dead, including 11 soldiers and eight civilians.

The Nusra Front claimed responsibility for a twin suicide bombing that hit a popular café in Tripoli’s Jabal Mohsen neighborhood on January 10, claiming the lives of nine.

The Lebanese Army Forces (LAF) heightened security measures in the aftermath of the twin suicide bombing, the first breach to a security plan implemented in June last year following years of unrest between Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh.

(Reuters, Anadolu, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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