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On Syrian border, artillery thumps in shadows of medieval castle

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Syria has blamed the violence on the presence of FSA militants in north Lebanon using the area as a springboard for cross-border attacks against regime forces.

“When border guards are targeted or Syrian territories are targeted by fire from the Lebanese side, then the solution should come through coordination between the two countries,” said Ali Abdel-Karim Ali, the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, in early July.

This pocket of north Lebanon, although predominantly Sunni, also includes Christian and Alawite-populated villages. Many of their residents sympathize with the Syrian regime, or at least hold less favorable views of the armed Syrian opposition than local Sunnis.

“All the shelling here is because people fire from Lebanon at the Syrians and then the Syrians shell back,” says Edmond Elias, the mayor of Menjez, three miles east of Nourat al-Tahta, blaming the presence of “extremists” in neighboring Sunni villages.

The Lebanese army is presently redeploying troops from elsewhere in the country to the northern border in an effort to contain the security problems. The Lebanese army command said in a statement last week that the mission included clamping down on the cross-border infiltrations and arms smuggling operations and that troops would immediately respond to sources of fire “whichever side they may come from.”

Still, the operational choices facing the Lebanese army are bleak. Few Lebanese expect the army to stage counter-bombardments of Syrian artillery batteries that shell Lebanese territory. On the other hand, pursuing and arresting FSA militants sheltering on Lebanese soil will further worsen already tense relations with Lebanese Sunnis in the north who broadly back the uprising against the Assad regime and willingly cooperate with the armed Syrian opposition.

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