(Illustration) Hezbollah fighters carry coffi
(Illustration) Hezbollah fighters carry coffi Reuters

Four people have been killed in a gun battle in the eastern Lebanese town of Baalbek, a stronghold of the Shi'ite Hezbollah terrorist group, highlighting ongoing tensions over the civil war raging in neighboring Syria.

Shi'ite supporters and Sunni opponents of Hezbollah traded small-arms fire in running battles in the Bekaa Valley town last night. Two of the dead were identified as Hezbollah members, while the other two were identified as Ali Mustapha al-Rifai and Ali Sami al-Masri. It is not clear whether the latter two men were killed fighting Hezbollah forces, or were bystanders caught in the crossfire.

Following the clashes, Hezbollah supporters reportedly set fire to a number of Sunni-owned shops, according to the Yahlibnan news website.

As of this morning, however, the Lebanese army had moved into the area and taken over checkpoints formally manned by Hezbollah in an attempt to diffuse tensions.

Sectarian tensions in Lebanon, which are strained at the best of times, have repeatedly boiled over in the past few months, as supporters and opponents of Syria's Assad regime face off in increasingly violent clashes.

While Hezbollah has provided crucial support for the Assad regime on the battlefield - most notably during the battle for Al Qusair in western Syria, but in other places as well - a steady flow of Sunni fighters have also been making their way across the border into Syria to join rebel groups.

Back home, such conflicting loyalties have reopened old divisions between rival factions, along both political and religious lines.