Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Military preparing for operation near Syria border

Published:Wednesday | July 19, 2017 | 7:00 AM

BEIRUT (AP) Lebanon is preparing a military operation to secure a lawless section of the border with Syria, Prime Minister Saad Hariri told parliament yesterday.

The leader of Lebanon's powerful militant group Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, hinted in a speech last week that a joint operation was in the works with the Lebanese and Syrian militaries to expel Islamic State and Al-Qaida-linked militants from the Arsal region, which is home to a large number of Syrian refugees.

The Lebanese military is expected to try and root out militants from the Lebanese side of the mountainous frontier, retired Gen. Elias Hanna told The Associated Press.

There will be concerns about civilian casualties if the militants infiltrate Arsal, which has a population of 60,000, or draw the army into battles inside the Syrian refugee communities in the area, said Hanna.

Relations between the refugees and the Lebanese army are already strained following a raid on June 30 that resulted in the detention of 355 Syrians; four later died in army custody.

Hariri, an outspoken opponent of Syrian President Bashar Assad, promised the Lebanese military would not coordinate with Syrian troops.

Amnesty International called on the Lebanese military and other parties to "prioritize the protection of Lebanese residents as well as Syrian refugees in the area," adding that "thousands of lives are on the line."

The Syrian army and Hezbollah are expected to battle the militants on the Syrian side of the frontier. Hezbollah has been a key Assad ally throughout the civil war.