Lebanon army clashes with militants in Arsal

#LebanonViolence

Arsal clashes come as militants call for 'liberation of all female Muslims detained' and Hezbollah reportedly pushes for military action

Shiite Lebanese gunmen block vehicles on a road in the village of Bazzaliyeh which leads to the town of Arsal in on 6 December, 2014 (AFP)
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Friday 13 February 2015 8:00 UTC
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Lebanese army troops on Thursday clashed with militants near the town of Arsal on the border with Syria, a security source has said.

"Fierce clashes erupted after militants launched an attack on the Lebanese army in the Wadi Hamid district in Arsal, prompting troops to respond with artillery and rocket fire," the source told The Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity.

According to the source, the attack left no casualties among army troops, while an unspecified number of militants were killed or injured.

The Lebanese army recently sent reinforcements to Arsal following deadly clashes with militants in August of last year, in which several soldiers were killed and injured.

Several Lebanese soldiers were also captured in the melee.

Over the past several weeks, the Islamic State (IS) militant group has announced the execution of two of the ten Lebanese troops it was holding.

The Nusra Front, meanwhile, has announced the execution of two of the 19 Lebanese troops it is holding.

A fifth solider died from his injuries in captivity.

The militants demanded that Lebanese forces release the ex-wife of IS's leader and another woman, a negotiator said Tuesday. 

Salafist Sheikh Wissam al-Masri is mediating the release of 25 police and soldiers held by IS and the Nusra Front since August, when the militants briefly overran Arsal.

Masri told reporters IS wrote a letter to him demanding the release of Saja al-Dulaimi, the former wife of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as well as Ola Sharkas, the wife of Nusra commander Anas Sharkas.    

The militants also called for "the liberation of all female Muslims detained in Lebanon in connection to the war in Syria," Masri said.

Lebanese authorities announced earlier this month the arrests of Dulaimi and Sharkas's wife. Dulaimi had tried to enter Lebanon from Syria with two sons and a daughter, the interior minister said.

The two groups demand the withdrawal from Syria of fighters from Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah group, who for the past two years have been openly fighting alongside Syrian government forces.

Hezbollah, who has previously negotiated a prisoner-swap with Nusra, is thought to be against any negotiated settlement between the Lebanese army and the militants, a source informed on the negotiation process told MEE, on condition of anonymity.

Hezbollah adopts a less bullish approach only when it wants to secure the release of one of its own members, the sources said, adding that the Shiite group has been pressing the army for more military action against Arsal, which in turn has harmed the city's civilian population and Syrian refugees that they host.