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Syria's uprising creeps across Lebanese border

A recent slew of Syrian incursions into eastern Lebanon have stirred up rivalries between Lebanese who support the Assad regime and those who resent its interference in Lebanese affairs.

By Correspondent / October 20, 2011

Lebanese activists in Beirut Tuesday carry banners and wave a Bahraini (r.) and a former flag of Syria as Lebanese policemen stand guard during a protest in solidarity with anti-government protesters in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, in front of the Arab league headquarters

Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

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Arsal, Lebanon

A growing number of cross-border incursions by Syrian troops into Lebanese territory has aggravated political rivalries in Lebanon between those who oppose the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and those who support it.

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Since the beginning of October, Syrian soldiers have penetrated Sunni-populated areas along Lebanon’s remote and poorly marked eastern border on a number of occasions, reportedly killing and abducting several people.

Unlike Syria’s stronger neighbors – Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel – Lebanon has long lived under Syria’s shadow and is more vulnerable to interference as the Assad regime pursues its crackdown on the Syrian opposition, elements of which have begun to arm themselves and fight back.

“People here have grown used to [Syrian] violations, but what is worrying us is a large operation by the Syrians in Arsal. We are almost positive it is going to happen,” says Ali Hojeiry, the mayor of Arsal, a town of 40,000 Sunnis tucked into barren mountains along Lebanon’s eastern frontier with Syria.

Repeated incursions, an abduction in Beirut

Two weeks ago, Syrian troops backed by tanks attacked isolated buildings six miles east of Arsal, where farmers cultivate orchards of almonds, apricots, and pears. Days later, a Syrian national was killed on Lebanese soil near Arsal.

Since then there have been further incursions reported elsewhere along the border.

On Tuesday, Syrian troops shot and killed a dual Lebanese-Syrian national and captured another man on the border as part of a security clampdown on towns and villages south of the flashpoint city of Homs, which lies just 20 miles north of the Lebanese frontier. On Wednesday, gun battles between Syrian security forces and army defectors erupted in the border area.

There were mixed reports on the number of casualties (one report said two officers and six soldiers, all deserters, were killed) and the precise location of the incident. Much of Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria is unmarked and, during calmer times, easily accessed in places by residents of both countries.

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