Lebanese army disperses youths protesting near border town

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 29, 2014 5:26 AM

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese soldiers fired into the air to disperse a protest on Monday against security measures near a town close to the Syrian border, a security source and the state news agency reported.

State news agency NNA said three youths had been wounded and others arrested after a confrontation with the army in a valley outside Arsal, a town in Lebanon that has been drawn into neighboring Syria's civil war.

The army has increased security measures around the town since the summer, saying it wants to protect residents from militant groups originating in Syria who are trying to expand land they control into Lebanon.

Islamic State and Al Qaeda's Nusra Front -- Sunni Muslim groups fighting in Syria -- attacked Arsal in August and took a group of Lebanese soldiers captive.

Lebanese media reported that around 150 Lebanese and Syrian protesters gathered on Monday at a checkpoint outside Arsal after a similar protest on Sunday. An Arsal resident contacted by Reuters put the figure on Monday at less than 100 people.

The protesters fear the army will further restrict movement around the town, affecting the livelihoods of people who work in nearby farms and quarries, Lebanese media reported.

The army says it regularly arrests suspected militants in the area, including two Syrians detained close to Arsal on Saturday on suspicion of smuggling and aiding "terrorist groups".

The army chief said last month that militants who attacked parts of Lebanon this year could have drawn the small Mediterranean country, which was ripped apart by sectarian fighting between 1975 and 1990, into a new civil war.

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Catherine Evans)