Lebanese army detains 103 Syrians in wake of border bombings

AP News
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Posted: Jun 28, 2016 6:04 AM
Lebanese army detains 103 Syrians in wake of border bombings

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese troops detained 103 Syrians for illegal entry into the country, in a security sweep on Tuesday, a day after a series of deadly bombings struck a village near the border with Syria, the military said.

The unprecedented attacks — nine explosions in all, eight of them suicide bombings — triggered fear and panic among residents of Qaa village and a deepening sense of foreboding in Lebanon, which has grappled for over five years with spillovers from neighboring Syria's civil war.

Tuesday was declared a national day of mourning and authorities postponed funerals for the five people killed in Monday's bombings, citing security reasons. A major religious event scheduled in the capital, Beirut, by the militant Hezbollah group was also postponed.

Also citing security concerns, the ministry of culture said it will postpone the opening of Bacchus Temple, part of the famed ruins of Baalbek.

The army said it carried out security raids in six areas in the Baalbek region, which has many informal settlements of Syrian refugees. It said nine motorcycles and two vehicles were confiscated and two Lebanese were arrested with illegal weapons.

Monday's explosions, four in early morning and five at night, killed five people and wounded nearly 30 in the mainly Christian Qaa village. Later in the day, two bombers blew themselves outside the village church as people gathered for funerals of those killed earlier Monday.

An army statement said one of the suicide bombers blew himself as he was chased by troops, while the other blew himself near a military post when guards fired at him. No one was killed but the two blasts wounded 13 people.

Qaa and the nearby Ras Baalbek are the only two villages with a Christian majority in the predominantly Shiite Hermel region, where the Shiite Hezbollah group holds sway. The group has sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to bolster President Bashar Assad's forces against the predominantly Sunni rebels trying to topple him.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV blamed Monday's attack on the Islamic State group, which has claimed previous attacks in Lebanon. Al-Mustaqbal daily, which is owned by Hezbollah's rival group, suggested the army was the target of the attack.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings.

Sunni extremists have carried out several attacks in the border area since Syria's conflict began in March 2011, leading the Christians of Qaa to set up self-defense units for their village. Since mid-2014, the Lebanese army has stepped up operations and patrols in the area, leading to a drop in bombings and shelling.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who heads the party that commands the largest Christian bloc in parliament, had called a day before the attacks on municipalities under his party's control to ban any gathering or camps of Syrian refugees, sparking criticism.