Syrian rebels fought with gunmen from Lebanon's Hezbollah terror organization in a deadly clash on Lebanese soil overnight, a security official and local media said Sunday, in the latest sign Syria's civil war is spilling over the country's borders.
It was the worst clash on Lebanese territory since the outbreak of the conflict more than two years ago.
According to the Lebanese El-Nashra news site, 14 rebels and one Hezbollah were killed in the battles.
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The Lebanese TV station Al-Mayadeen, which is affiliated with Hezbollah and is therefore seen as sympathetic to the Syrian regime, quoted Lebanese security officials as saying 17 fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, a radical rebel group linked to the global al-Qaeda terror network, were killed while trying to deploy rocket launchers in eastern Lebanon's Baalbek region, a Hezbollah stronghold near the border with Syria.
Hezbollah and Syria's rebels fight on opposite sides inside Syria, and tensions between them have risen sharply since the Lebanese militia stepped up its armed support for President Bashar Assad's regime last month.
Video courtesy of jn1.tv
Rebel fighters have threatened to attack Hezbollah bases in Lebanon, and on Saturday 18 rockets and mortar rounds hit Baalbek.
In the night from Saturday to Sunday, Hezbollah apparently encircled and ambushed a group of Syrian rebels and allied Lebanese fighters whom they suspected of rocketing Baalbek a day earlier, said a Lebanese security official. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations and because the details were not yet clear.
He said a Hezbollah fighter and several rebels were killed in the clashes in a remote area between Baalbek and the Syrian border.
The growing tensions between Hezbollah and rebels trying to oust Assad are linked to a regime offensive against the rebel-held town of Qusair in western Syria. Hezbollah's involvement in the battle for control of the strategic town has exposed its growing role in the Syria conflict, prompting rebel threats to target Hezbollah's bases in Lebanon.
Fighting in Qusair (Photo: AFP, Syrian TV)
Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq reported Saturday that a relative of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah was killed recently during the fighting in Qusair. The paper quoted sources from the Free Syrian Army as saying the relative's name was Khader Nasrallah. Reports of his death were also published on several social networks, and a video purportedly documenting his funeral in south Lebanon was uploaded on YouTube.
In Qatar, an influential Sunni Muslim cleric whose TV show is watched by millions across the region, fanned the sectarian flames ignited by the Syria conflict and urged Sunnis everywhere to join the fight against Assad.
"I call on Muslims everywhere to help their brothers be victorious," Yusuf al-Qaradawi said in his Friday sermon in the Qatari capital of Doha. "If I had the ability I would go and fight with them."
Rocket landing site in Baalbek (Photo: Reuters)
"Everyone who has the ability and has training to kill ... is required to go," said al-Qaradawi, who is in his 80s. "We cannot ask our brothers to be killed while we watch."
He denounced Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, as "more infidel than Christians and Jews" and Shiite Muslim Hezbollah as "the party of the devil."
Meanwhile, Lebanese security officials and the state-run news agency said Israeli warplanes flew at a low altitude over the capital Beirut, the eastern Bekaa Valley and the city of Baalbek.
Israeli warplanes regularly enter Lebanese airspace. A security official confirmed the Sunday overflights and said they were among the most intense recently. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.
There was no immediate comment from Israel.
The flights come amid heightened regional tensions because of the civil war in Syria.
Israel is believed to have carried out three airstrikes inside Syria this year said to be aimed at weapons meant for Hezbollah.
Also Sunday, a car bomb killed at least three people in Jobar, a suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus, said a Syrian government official who insisted on anonymity because he is not allowed to brief reporters.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition group, said the blast targeted a police station and killed nine Syrian soldiers. It said the al-Qaida-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra carried out the attack.
Syria's state agency SANA blamed the blast on a suicide bomber, saying he blew up his explosive-packed car which was parked in the residential area. The Observatory and SANA said the explosion took place amid heavy fighting. Jobar is a scene of frequent clashes, with rebels trying to push from there toward the capital.
The army has been conducting massive sweeps through opposition strongholds around Damascus, including Jobar.
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