BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon has detained about 450 suspected militants near its border with Syria over the past two weeks, Lebanese security sources said on Thursday, as the army steps up efforts to prevent fighters from using the town of Arsal as a base.
Arsal was the scene of last month of the deadliest spillover of fighting in the three-year civil war in Syria, and during clashes that killed dozens, militants captured a group of Lebanese soldiers and have since killed at least three of them. They are believed to be holding more than a dozen others.
This month, the army has arrested hundreds of people in the area, who are mainly Syrians and whom authorities accuse of being members of groups such as Nusra Front, Syria’s al-Qaeda wing, which is fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
The army said on Thursday it had searched a camp near the border and had detained four people believed to be linked to Nusra Front. State news agency NNA said people had set camps on fire before fleeing.
Anti-Assad insurgents often cross the border, using Arsal to rest or seek medical treatment, and the town also hosts tens of thousands of refugees who have fled from violence in Syria.
Sunni Muslim militants and other groups in Syria accuse the Lebanese army of working with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement which has sent fighters to help Assad’s forces.