Army pounds militant positions on Arsal’s outskirts

The Lebanese Army pounded militant positions on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal Sunday, killing and wounding a number of them, security sources said.

A security source said the Army shelled the militants’ positions in Al-Masyada and Dahr al-Jabar on Arsal’s outskirts with artillery and rockets, killing and wounding of a number of militants.

The casualties were taken to field hospitals in the area of Al-Malahi on Arsal’s outskirts.

Later Sunday, local TV stations reported that the Army opened fire on militants in Wadi Hmaid, on the northern entrance to Arsal, foiling their attempts to infiltrate the town and inflicting a number of casualties.

The Army’s pre-emptive strikes come amid growing fears that Islamist militants withdrawing from Syria’s Qalamoun region following major military successes by Hezbollah and the Syrian army would regroup on the outskirts of Arsal.

Militants have moved toward the outskirts of the Syrian villages of Flita and Ras al-Maara, which implies they could be withdrawing further in the direction of Arsal.

Lebanese military sources said there are thousands of Lebanese troops stationed in border areas to prevent infiltration by jihadis.

Hezbollah and the Syrian army have seized control of most of Qalamoun’s strategic hills in nearly two weeks of battles against jihadi militants led by the Nusra Front, Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The fighting between Hezbollah and Syrian jihadis began on March 4 when Nusra Front militants launched surprise attacks on Hezbollah and Syrian army posts in the rugged Qalamoun region along Lebanon’s eastern border.

Hezbollah and the Syrian army responded with a swift campaign to drive the militants north, beginning from the outskirts of the Lebanese border enclave of Tfail.

Hezbollah and the Syrian army have since captured hill after hill, including Tallet Moussa, in fierce daily fighting that has left dozens of Nusra-led militants dead. Tallet Moussa, the highest point in Qalamoun, allows Hezbollah and the Syrian army to monitor movements on both sides of the border.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said his party and the Syrian army have achieved “a very big military victory” in the battle for Qalamoun. He said Hezbollah remained at the “heart of the battle,” disclosing that 13 party fighters have been killed since the offensive began nearly two weeks ago.

“We are now in an open battle in the timing, location and stages. It is our right and the right of our people in the Bekaa, particularly the Baalbek-Hermel area, to look for that day where there are no terrorist groups on our borders or on the outskirts of our villages and towns,” Nasrallah said in a speech broadcast by Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV channel Saturday night.

Jihadi militants have also been ousted from several strategic locations, allowing Hezbollah and its allies to link Lebanon’s eastern towns to adjacent Syrian villages, Nasrallah said.

He said the seizure of jihadi posts in Qalamoun has helped secure the Damascus-Homs highway and Lebanese border towns, recalling the hundreds of rockets fired by Syrian rebels into Lebanon over the past several years.

“I am not talking about full security, because militants are still present on the outskirts of Arsal,” he added. “As long as they are on Arsal’s outskirts and the remaining part of Qalamoun, then I can’t talk about complete security.”

Nasrallah said Hezbollah has lost 13 fighters since the start of the offensive, while the Syrian Army and Syrian popular mobilization units lost a combined seven.

Nasrallah said residents of the Bekaa Valley will not tolerate the presence of militants on the outskirts of their towns and villages. If the state does not assume its responsibility toward these towns, Nasrallah added, Bekaa residents will take it upon themselves to ensure protection.

Hezbollah detonated a car bomb rigged with half a ton of explosives Saturday in the Qalamoun region, reported Al-Manar TV, which aired footage showing the vehicle explode in flames.

“The resistance’s mujahedeen have detonated a car that had been rigged with more than 500 kilograms of highly explosive material on the Fatleh crossing in Qalamoun,” it said. The Fatleh crossing connects the Syrian village of Ras al-Maara to the outskirts of the Lebanese border town of Nahleh.

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