Influx of militants fleeing Syrian battlefields for Lebanon is highly seen to be cause of recent deadly violence in Syria’s tiny neighbor.
The ongoing battle between foreign-backed militants and Syrian army in mountainous region of Qalamoun, along the Syria-Lebanon border, has pushed scores, if not hundreds, of militants from a variety of armed groups into Lebanon, where security officials say their presence is destabilizing an already-volatile situation.
“Some rebels seem to have decided that operating directly in Lebanon is safer than Syria,” one exasperated Lebanese security official said, speaking only on the condition of anonymity according to a report by McClatchy.
“Some of these are normal rebels tired of war who have entered Lebanon with their families as refugees, but we’re seeing evidence some are with al Qaeda or the Nusra Front,” an al Qaeda-affiliated group with a record of extremist violence in Syria war.
At least 10 people died and dozens were wounded over the weekend in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city.
The city has seen violence before between rival neighborhoods that in supporting or rejecting militants fighting to overthrow Syrian government, but the weekend’s fighting was especially bloody and left the city shuttered Monday.
“The guys (on both sides) have gone insane,” a resident said by phone, asking that her name not be used in order to protect her family. “It’s not just (the usual) sniping, it’s rockets, mortars and grenades. Nobody in Tripoli slept Saturday or Sunday night.”
“I don’t know about them but I do know that we’re seeing more and more fighters entering here from Syria, and not just refugees,” the security official said. “These new fighters are starting to operate in Tripoli, Bekaa” – where thousands of Syrian refugees already are ensconced – “and in the Palestinian camps.”
“There are new faces and Syrian voices in the camp,” Abu Mahmoud, a security official for the Fatah movement in a Palestinian camp, said by phone. He asked to be identified only by his nom de guerre.
Abu Mahmoud said the growing extremists’ presence in the camp recalled the situation at the Nahr Bared camp in northern Lebanon, which exploded in 2007 into a three-month siege that took hundreds of lives and destroyed the camp after extremists who’d fled the fighting in Iraq took control of the camp’s military facilities and attacked the Lebanese army.
“We are terrified of another Nahr Bared,” Abu Mahmoud said.
A new militant group that claims to be formed of local volunteers declared that it would attack supporters of Syrian government in northern Lebanon.
The Akkar Falcons – described in the local media as veterans of the fighting in Syria – said it had enlisted 600 militants in Lebanon’s north to confront the Syria’s Lebanese allies.