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On Syrian border, artillery thumps in shadows of medieval castle

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Many of the villages in this area house large numbers of Syrian refugees, most of them with harrowing stories about atrocities they have witnessed and the dangers they braved to escape. Two young Syrian men from the mainly Sunni-populated town of Tel Kalakh, two miles north of the border, lay on mattresses on the floor of Ahmad’s house, resting from the sweltering midday heat. Pulling up his vest to expose the scar, one of them said he was shot in the chest by a Syrian sniper while riding a horse across the Kabir River into Lebanon a few months ago. He clung to the horse’s mane, bleeding heavily and made it to safety. The other said he was struck by bullets three times in his legs. He was in a party of seven that dashed across the border. Two members of the group were killed.

Now, however, casualties are closer to home for the residents of Nourat al-Tahta and neighboring villages.

Last week, a man died when he accidentally drove into a tree in his panic to flee shellfire in the village. The same night, two Syrians were cut down by shrapnel in the street. Mohammed, another Syrian from Tel Kalakh staying in Nourat al-Tahta, said he was hit by shrapnel while helping evacuate children from the village.

A foot-deep bomb crater beside a house with shell-pocked cinder block walls on the eastern entrance of Nourat al-Fawqa provides evidence that the Syrian Army is using large caliber artillery rounds to strike north Lebanon. Vicious heavy steel shrapnel shards lay scattered on the ground.

Lebanon struggles to respond

The Lebanese government, which is dominated by allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been hesitant to address the deteriorating security situation along the border, not only here but along other parts of the frontier that have witnessed brief Syrian troop incursions and isolated shelling.

On July 16, Adnan Mansour, the Lebanese foreign minister, played down the impact of cross-border breaches by Syrian military forces, saying “the incursions have involuntarily led to the fall of victims, but we cannot consider them as violations.”

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