Lebanese army enters Arsal after militant clashes

Lebanese Army soldiers on a tank advance towards the Sunni Muslim border town of Arsal, in eastern Bekaa Valley August 7, 2014.

Lebanese Army soldiers on a tank advance towards the Sunni Muslim border town of Arsal, in eastern Bekaa Valley August 7, 2014.

Lebanese troops have started to enter the border town of Arsal next to Syria, after days of clashes with militants there, a military source said on Friday.

“We have started to enter, we’ve set up a checkpoint on the western side of the city, and we’re advancing bit-by-bit,” a military source told Agence France-Presse.

“We haven’t entered all of the town yet, so we can’t say if the gunmen have completely withdrawn,” he added.

The seizure of Arsal last weekend marked the first time that Islamist extremists from Syria carried out a large-scale incursion into Lebanon and raised fears of a further spillover of the conflict across the porous border.

Wafiq Khalaf, a municipal council member confirmed that troops were entering the edge of the town, but had not yet spread throughout.

“They are entering from the outskirts, the situation is quiet. There is no shooting or fighting,” he told AFP.

The army advance comes after a truce that saw many of the jihadists who entered the town on Saturday withdraw to the surrounding mountains.

The militants, from several jihadist groups fighting in Syria, attacked army and police posts in the area in eastern Lebanon on Saturday afternoon after the arrest of a man accused of belonging to Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch Al-Nusra Front.

A group of Sunni clerics negotiated a truce under which the militants were to withdraw and release some 19 soldiers and 17 policemen who were taken hostage during the fighting.

 
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