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Qalamoun violence renews fears of Syrian spillover into Lebanon - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are seen in the Qalamoun mountains north of Damascus. Syria's army ambushed Islamist fighters in the Qalamoun mountains north of the capital Damascus on Friday, leaving as many as 60 people dead, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said (REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters)

This file photo taken on December 30, 2013, shows forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad in the Qalamoun mountains north of Damascus.
(REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Ongoing fighting in the Qalamoun region, on the border Syrian border with Lebanon’s Arsal, has renewed fears of the conflict spilling into Lebanon as Arsal’s leaders pledged to ensure civilians remained safe.

The Syrian government has stepped up air strikes on Syrian towns in the area, which borders Lebanon’s Arsal region, and Hezbollah has launched further ground operations. Damascus has frequently claimed that Islamist rebels fighting President Bashar Al-Assad have been using Arsal as a staging point to resupply units operating in Syria.

The deputy mayor of Arsal, Ahmad Fliti, denied that claim in comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, however, saying that only civilians who fled the war in Syria are present in the town. The Al-Qaeda-linked rebels, he said, are based on the Syrian side.

Arsal’s mayor, Ali Al-Hajiri, said in a statement earlier this week that “we do not want our land to turn into an arena armed groups infiltrate on the pretext of staging a revolution.”

The statement warned of “recent incidents that could spark strife in Lebanon as an extension of the raging war in Syria.”

The violence in Syria has spilled over into Lebanon with increasing frequency in the more than three years since the war began, and not only as skirmishes in the border areas. A number of bombings and other violence have struck Beirut and the northern city of Tripoli, especially since Lebanon’s Hezbollah admitted its militias were operating in the neighboring country.

Arsal shares a 35 mile (55 kilometer) border with Qalamoun, and is hosting over 100,000 Syrian refugees. It is also the main crossing point for people fleeing Syria into Lebanon.

Hezbollah, which has proved instrumental in the fight alongside Syrian government forces, has managed to take control of the entire Qalamoun side, a military source who requested anonymity told Asharq Al-Awsat.