Lebanese Army bars wounded Syrian rebels until hostages freed
Nov. 08, 2014 /Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army Friday barred 11 wounded Syrian rebels from entering Lebanese territory through the southern Mount Hermon border region, demanding first the release of some servicemen held hostage by Islamist militants, security sources said.
The rebels were wounded during heavy clashes that erupted Thursday and continued until early Friday between Syrian government troops and opposition groups in the Mount Hermon area where the borders of Syria, Lebanon and Israel meet.
The wounded attempted to enter Lebanese territory after at least 40 people were killed in clashes between government forces and rebels, including the Nusra Front, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory said the fighting in Beit Tima, a majority-Druze region, left 26 pro-government forces and 14 rebels and jihadi fighters dead.
“The Lebanese Army has demanded the release of some of the soldiers and policemen held by militants in return for letting the wounded Syrians receive treatment in Lebanese territory,” a security source told The Daily Star.
A senior military official refused to comment on the border incident. He also declined to confirm if the Army had demanded the release of a number of hostages in exchange for letting the wounded rebels into Lebanese territory.
nd Nusra Front militants are holding 27 soldiers and policemen captured during the five-day fierce clashes with the Lebanese Army in the northeastern town of Arsal in early August. The militants are demanding the release of a number of Islamist detainees held in Roumieh Prison as well as several Syrian female prisoners held in Syria for freeing the hostages.
However, Lebanese Red Cross teams were allowed to give the wounded first aid at the border, medical sources told The Daily Star.
The wounded, including seven members of the rebel Free Syrian Army, were stopped at 700 meters from the Army checkpoint on the Rashaya crossing between the Syrian town of Beit Jin and Lebanon’s Arqoub in the Shebaa region.
The Army allowed three Red Cross ambulances to reach the wounded and provide them with first aid, but they were prevented from transporting them to hospitals, the sources said.
At least four of the wounded were in critical condition and were able to get assistance by the Red Cross teams backed by a medical doctor, the sources said, adding that the wounded were later returned to Syria.
Sheikh Mohammad Jarrar, who heads Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya in Shebaa, said that many FSA members were seriously wounded in battles with the Syrian army near the towns of Kfar Hawar and Beit Tima in the Mount Hermon area. In recent weeks, the area has seen recurrent battles between regime forces and the opposition.
Jarrar said that two of the wounded died en route, and seven arrived at the Lebanese border, one of them in a critical condition.
An FSA source confirmed that the wounded men were not affiliated with the Nusra Front, but were in fact fighting with the FSA.
Security sources said earlier that the Syrian rebels have been stranded at the border since Friday morning after being barred by the Army from crossing into Lebanon.
There has been fighting between regime and rebel forces in the region for more than a year, but Thursday’s toll is the highest in a single day since violence began there.
Syrian refugees and both civilians and rebels wounded in fighting have regularly slipped across the porous border between the two countries.
Lebanese authorities have been cracking down on Syrians attempting to enter the country illegally, with the government voting last month to stop accepting new refugees.Meanwhile, MPs Walid Jumblatt and Talal Arslan condemned the deadly fighting in the predominantly Druze area of Syria’s Mount Hermon. However, the two Druze leaders’ condemnations exposed their conflicting stances on the Syrian war. Jumblatt supports the anti-regime revolt, while Arslan is an ally of President Bashar Assad.
Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, warned against dragging the Druze into the Syrian conflict, while Arslan, Lebanese Democratic Party chief, said the Druze were paying the price for supporting a unified Syria.
“Beware of using the Druze to face the Syrian revolution,” Jumblatt wrote on his Twitter account.
In what appeared to be a message addressed to anti-rebel Syrian Druze, Jumblatt said: “I have already warned of the dangers of involvement with the Syrian regime. It’s time for reconciliation with the surroundings and to stand neutral,” he added. “Sooner or later the Syrian people will win.”
But Arslan said Syria’s Druze were “paying the price for standing alongside a united Syria … and for the sake of maintaining their dignity and honor and their existence.”
He said Druze villages in the eastern part of Mount Hermon were the target of a war waged by “terrorist supporters and those carrying the scheme to fragment the region.”
Separately, the Lebanese Army rounded up four Lebanese suspects believed to have been involved in attacks against troops in Tripoli and other areas in north Lebanon, a military statement said. – Additional reporting by Elise Knutsen