US Warns Against Travel to Lebanon as Army Mourns 8 Soldiers

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Mourners throw rice and flower petals over the coffin of Lebanese soldier Mohammad Ali Alaeddine, who was killed alongside four other soldiers in clashes with gunmen near the Syrian border, during his funeral on January 24, 2015, in the southern Lebanese village of Majdal Silm. AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat

Published Sunday, January 25, 2015

The United States embassy in Beirut on Sunday urged American nationals not to travel to Lebanon, citing security concerns.

The US embassy in Beirut "urges all US citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon due to safety and security concerns," the embassy said on its website.

The warning came two days after eight Lebanese soldiers were killed and at least 22 were wounded in clashes between the army and militants near the Syrian border.

The embassy warned that "reports in local media on January 23, 2015 [said] that a suspected suicide bomber confessed to authorities that future targets had allegedly included Casino du Liban in Jounieh, and Le Royal Hotel in Dbayeh," the embassy said.

"While the security forces of Lebanon have had a number of important successes in preventing suicide attacks, the US Embassy continues to urge US citizens in Lebanon to exercise heightened security awareness of their surroundings at all times," the embassy added.

Deadly clashes erupted in the Ras Baalbek area early on Friday, after gunmen coming from the Qalamoun region of Syria attacked a Lebanese military post, according to a security source.

The fighting, in an area that has seen regular incursions from Islamist militants fighting in Syria's war, lasted all day. The Lebanese army used heavy artillery and helicopter gunships in the latest clashes in the eastern region.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency (NNA) said the militants fighting against the army were member of al-Qaeda's Syria branch, al-Nusra Front.

The bodies of over 40 militants were discovered in the rugged outskirts of Ras Baalbek, most of whom were killed in army airstrikes on a vehicle convoy.

The 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 on multiple occasions in recent months.

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.

(Al-Akhbar, Anadolu)

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