Lebanese troops clash with gunmen; 3 killed

AP News
Posted: Feb 01, 2013 11:39 AM

BEIRUT (AP) — At least three Lebanese soldiers were killed and five others were wounded in clashes Friday between the army and gunmen in the northeast near the Syrian border, a police official and the state-run news agency said.

The official said the gunmen ambushed an army intelligence unit in Arsal where it went to arrest a fugitive. He declined to give further details and spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The National News Agency said the fugitive, Khaled Hamid, is suspected of being involved in last year's kidnapping of seven Estonian tourists. They were abducted in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley and held for nearly four months before being released in July.

It was unclear if Friday's clashes were related to the civil war in Syria. Deadly street clashes between pro- and anti-Syrians in Lebanon related to the civil war in Syria have erupted on several occasions in Lebanon, adding to the country's own sectarian tensions.

A senior Lebanese army officer said clashes were under way with gunmen in the area, but did not disclose further details.

Residents of Arsal, a Sunni Muslim town, are known to be sympathetic to the Syrian opposition fighting to topple President Bashar Assad next door, and arms smuggling into Syria is widespread in the area.

Since the armed uprising against Assad began, the town has become a sanctuary for war-weary Syrian rebels, a way station for wounded fighters and home to hundreds of Syrian refugee families.