Four rockets struck residential neighborhoods in Lebanon’s eastern town of Labwe and its outskirts on Monday injuring at least one person, the army said, as security forces struggled to contain violence fueled by a Syrian army offensive across the frontier.
The rocket attack on East Lebanon was the latest strike by suspected Syrian rebels on targets inside Lebanon after Syrian forces and their Lebanese allies Hezbollah recaptured the border town of Yabrud from jihadist rebels on Sunday.
The rebel defeat at Yabrud sent a stream of refugees and fighters across the border towards the Lebanese Bekaa Valley town of Ersal, and was followed hours later by a suicide car bombing against the border town of al-Nabi Othman.
The border area has been steadily sucked into Syria’s three-year-old conflict as Syrian troops and jets targeted rebel bases on the frontier and suspected Syrian rebels fired rockets at towns viewed as sympathetic to Hezbollah to punish powerful movement for supporting Assad.
But the rebel loss of Yabrud could exacerbate tensions across Lebanon and the flight of 2,000 defeated rebels – some of them into Lebanon – would further destabilize the already volatile Bekaa Valley.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam met army chief General Jean Kahwaji on Monday and called on the military to “take all necessary measures to control the situation in Bekaa’s border areas,” a statement from his office said.
When the rockets struck Labwe and al-Nabi Othman, about five miles west of Arsal, gunmen took up positions on the street and others leapt into cars. Reuters journalists in the town heard sirens of emergency vehicles.
The attack on the towns followed a suicide bombing which killed two people in al-Nabi Othman on Sunday. Two radical Islamist groups separately claimed responsibility.
At the site of the blast yellow Hezbollah banners were flying on Monday. “Dear criminals, our blood is stronger than your terror,” read one of them, next to the group’s logo.
The blast blew apart buildings in the area, including a barber shop where the twisted remains of a barber chair were visible through the door. A damaged grey Mercedes was in the road and the twisted charred remains of a car.
One person was killed in the same town on Saturday after several rockets were fired from near Ersal in an attack claimed by al-Nusra Front in Lebanon.
Yabrud was the last stronghold of jihadist rebels on the Syrian side of the border and its capture by the Syrian army and Hezbollah triggered open celebrations in Beirut’s southern suburbs – mixed with fear of imminent revenge attacks.
More than 100 youths on motorbikes paraded through the district on Sunday, waving Hezbollah flags and hooting their horns.
Hours later, however, Hezbollah members deployed in the streets after the Bekaa suicide bombing. Soldiers blocked off entrances to the suburb and there were lengthy queues at the few open checkpoints, where cars were thoroughly searched.
In the Bekaa Valley on Monday the army blew up an explosives-laden car about three miles north of Sunday’s suicide bomb attack. The twisted and charred remains of the car could be seen in a field of almond trees on the side of a hill on the outskirts of the small town of Fakeha.
Army humvees mounted with machine guns rolled along the crest of the hill and Lebanese soldiers in fatigues patrolled through the fields and the town, taking up positions along roadsides looking for the men who had been driving the car.
Access from Labwe to Ersal was blocked, possibly to prevent Syrian rebels who may have crossed into Ersal – which is the only eastern town that supports the rebels – from coming into confrontation with residents of Labwe.
In the northern coastal city of Tripoli, the army clashed overnight with fighters who fired rockets at military posts, security sources said.
Twelve people have been killed in four days of fighting triggered by tensions between rival neighborhoods.
Meanwhile in Lebanon’s far northeast region of Wadi Khaled, the army arrested 19 Syrians and two Lebanese attempting to cross into Lebanon from Syria carrying assault rifles, 30 cell phones, a laptop and money of different currencies, according to an army statement.
In his meeting with the army chief, Prime Minister Salam also instructed the military “to adopt zero tolerance” towards anyone threatening security in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city.