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Hostilities swell in Lebanon

by DIAA HADID Associated Press on March 18, 2014 10:00 AM

BEIRUT — Gunmen from Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group and local Shiite residents tightened their chokehold on a Sunni town near the Syrian border today, sparking concerns the standoff would cut off aid to thousands of Syrian refugees stranded in the area.

The stranglehold on the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal is the latest spillover of Syria’s civil war into its smaller neighbor. The conflict, particularly the Syrian army’s seizure of the town of Yabroud that served as a strategically important rebel stronghold, has inflamed sectarian tensions in Lebanon. The town is located just across the border from Lebanon.

The violence included a Syrian laborer who was found stabbed near a construction site in the central Lebanese mountains, Lebanon’s state-run news agency reported. The man’s blood was used to write the words “Revenge for Yabroud, and for Syria’s honor,” the NNA said.

It wasn’t clear what the man’s involvement was — if any — in the Yabroud battle and no other details were immediately available.

Over the weekend, gunmen closed off Arsal’s only road to the rest of Lebanon by erecting a sandbagged checkpoint manned by Hezbollah gunmen and Shiites from a string of surrounding towns.

The move came after the area’s Shiites blamed Arsal for rocket fire toward their villages in recent days and a car bombing that killed three people.

Shiite gunmen opened fire today at vehicles from Arsal that tried to drive up toward the checkpoint, said the town’s deputy mayor, Ahmad Fliti. The shooting heightened despair within Arsal, a town of 40,000 Lebanese and 52,000 Syrian refugees for whom the road is a vital lifeline.

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