Lebanese army advances in border area, finds 50 bodies

By REUTERS
August 4, 2014 12:59

Border town was attacked in Islamist incursion from Syria carried out by Sunni radicals including the Islamic State.

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Lebanese soldiers in Arsal, at Syrian border

Lebanese soldiers in Arsal, at Syrian border. (photo credit:REUTERS)

ARSAL, Lebanon - The Lebanese army advanced into a border town that was attacked by Islamists in an incursion from Syria at the weekend, finding the bodies of 50 militants, a Lebanese security official said.

The army pounded areas around the town of Arsal with artillery for a third day running in a bid to expel the militants whose incursion into Lebanese territory was the first of its kind since the Syrian civil war erupted three years ago.

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At least 13 Lebanese soldiers have been killed in the fighting, which erupted after the Lebanese security forces arrested a commander of the Nusra Front, al Qaeda's affiliate in the Syrian civil war, on Saturday.

The Lebanese army has described the incursion as a planned attack carried out by Sunni radicals including the Islamic State, an al-Qaida offshoot that has seized large areas of territory in Iraq and Syria.

At least two dozen members of the Lebanese security services - both army and police - have either been taken hostage or are missing. Thick plumes of black and grey smoke billowed from the tops of the hills where Arsal lies.

In a statement, the Lebanese army said it had taken full control of a school that militants had seized during the incursion. It said "a number" of soldiers had been killed and wounded in the fighting.

Arsal is a mainly Sunni town located on the Lebanese side of the border between Syrian government-controlled territory and Lebanese Shi'ite areas sympathetic to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed group that is fighting in Syria alongside President Bahsar al-Assad's forces.

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