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UN cautions Lebanon against getting pulled into Syrian war

By Agencies in Beirut and Labweh, Lebanon | China Daily | Updated: 2014-08-06 07:05

The United Nations Security Council has backed Lebanon's military action against extremist groups but urged it to stay out of the conflict in neighboring Syria, as Beirut vowed no leniency for "terrorist killers".

Twenty-two Lebanese soldiers were missing, possibly taken hostage, the army announced, and a military source said 16 others had been killed since the clashes with jihadists erupted on Saturday near the Syrian border.

The UN Security Council on Monday called on Lebanese politicians to "preserve national unity" and "refrain from any involvement in the Syrian crisis".

The 15-member Council "expressed support for the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces in their fight against terrorism".

Analysts said the violence could be contained in the short-term, but warned an aggressive military response could stoke tensions and worsen the clashes, which have also killed three civilians.

Two Lebanese soldiers were killed in fighting with Islamist militants overnight in the town of Arsal on the border with Syria and an eight-year-old girl was shot dead in clashes in a northern city, security sources said on Tuesday.

The fighting in Arsal in the north of the Bekaa Valley is the most serious spillover into Lebanon from Syria's civil war since that conflict began more than three years ago.

The clashes began on Saturday after security forces arrested an Islamist commander popular with local rebels who frequently use the porous border to move in and out of Syria. Shortly after the arrest, gunmen attacked security forces in the area.

At least 16 soldiers have been killed since then and sectarian tensions have flared in Lebanon, still recovering from its own 1975-90 civil war. An unknown number of civilians and militants have also died in the fighting.

Residents fled en masse after fierce fighting raged overnight.

"We didn't sleep all night because of the fighting," said Ahmed Hujairi, 55, who left with his family.

"The armed men are not letting anyone else leave. They fired over our heads to stop us," he added.

The gunmen were from different countries, dressed in black and were "very well-organized".

Prime Minister Tammam Salam pledged there would be "no leniency toward the terrorist killers and no appeasement for those who violate Lebanon's territory and harm its people".

In a statement after a cabinet meeting, he also urged France to speed up delivery of weapons for the Lebanese army being purchased under a $3 billion deal financed by Saudi Arabia.

Also on Tuesday, Islamists militants released three policemen as a "goodwill gesture" to allow Sunni Muslim clerics to broker a deal to end four days of fighting near the Syrian border.

A security source said the three policemen - identified by the militants as Rami Jamal, Khaled Saleh and Tannious Murad - were taken to a nearby hospital. One militant described the move as a "goodwill gesture" to allow talks to proceed.

AFP - Reuters

(China Daily 08/06/2014 page11)

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