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Hezbollah Forces Stage 'Takeover' of Lebanese Sunni Town

In latest spillover from conflict in Syria, Shia militiamen seize control of Lebanese border town following attacks.
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 3/18/2014, 2:45 PM

Hezbollah members carry the coffin of a fighter killed in the battle for Yabroud, Syria
Hezbollah members carry the coffin of a fighter killed in the battle for Yabroud, Syria
Reuters

Gunmen from Hezbollah and other Shia militias which support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have reportedly staged a "takeover" of a Sunni town in Lebanon, in response to attacks by Sunni Islamist groups.

The town of Arsal, on the border with Syria, has been the scene of numerous bombing and rocket attacks targeting the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which has provided crucial support to pro-regime forces in Syria. 

But the takeover could also be part of a wider strategic push by pro-Assad forces to block the Syrian rebels from accessing supporters in Lebanon.

Ahmed Fliti, the deputy mayor of Arsal, said that gunmen were not allowing people to leave the town for Syria, and opened fire on cars from Arsal that tried to approach roadblocks on Tuesday, according to Naharnet. He added that there were concerns the roadblocks could prevent humanitarian aid from reaching Syrians in need.

The traffic also runs in the opposite direction. Arsal's population has more than doubled over the past three years as mainly Sunni refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war have flocked to the border town, where many have family or tribal ties.

The takeover comes as Al Qaeda-linked groups have threatened revenge against Hezbollah, after the group played a crucial role in the fall of the former Syrian rebel bastion of Yabroud to regime forces.

The Nusra Front in Lebanon - believed to have links to the Syrian Al Qaeda franchise of the same name - issued a statement yesterday following the killing of a Hezbollah official, promising more deadly attacks.

The group warned Hezbollah of "jihadist operations to silence their tongues from singing about this shameful rape," referring to the takeover of Yabroud.

Hezbollah is believed to have lost some 120 fighters in the bloody and bitterly-fought battle for control of the strategically-important town, which came as part of a campaign to root-out rebels in the Qalamoun region bordering Lebanon.