Middle East

Lebanon protests flare over Syria spillover

Demonstrators clash with the army and block roads to protest siege on Syria border town.

Last updated: 19 Mar 2014 02:39
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Hezbollah and local Shia residents have tightened their blockade of the Sunni town of Arsal [AP]

Demonstrators have clashed with the army and blocked several roads across Lebanon to protest against a siege on a border town, as the country struggles to keep a lid on sectarian tensions enflamed by the war in neighbouring Syria.

The road to the predominantly Sunni town of Arsal was blocked on Tuesday by residents from the neighbouring Shia town of al-Labwa.

Clashes erupted throughout the country as protesters fought with the army, angry over sand barriers erected on roads leading to the town, cutting it off from other parts of Lebanon.

In the northern province of Akkar, armed men fired on an army vehicle wounding three soldiers. In the Beirut suburb of Qasqas, five protesters were wounded when the army fired tear gas into a crowd of demonstrators.

Protesters also blocked a main road leading from the capital Beirut to the southern coastal town of Sidon before the army fired shots in the air to disperse the group.

The blockade follows days of rocket attacks on Labwa which residents blame on Sunni rebels who have fled into Arsal, where tens of thousands of refugees live, to escape Syria President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

On Monday, several rockets struck Labwa, which along with other Shia villages, is guarded by Hezbollah fighters.

Residents said the rockets caused some damage but no casualties, and were fired from Arsal.

The border area has been steadily sucked into Syria’s three-year-old conflict as Syrian troops and jets target rebel bases on the frontier and suspected Syrian rebels fire rockets at Shia towns targeting Hezbollah fighters.

Syria spillover

Tensions have been high in and around Arsal after Syrian forces and Hezbollah fighters recaptured the border town of Yabroud from rebels on Sunday.

The rebel defeat at Yabroud sent a stream of refugees and fighters pouring across the border into Arsal, and was followed hours later by a suicide car bombing against a local stronghold of Hezbollah.

The Lebanese army sent commandos to the border area, bracing for another spillover from the conflict.

Syria’s civil war has already ignited sectarian tensions between Lebanon's Sunnis and Shia Muslims, with the loss of Yabroud likely to drag Lebanon further into the conflict.


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