Truce collapses, clashes renew in northeast Lebanon

Lebanese soldiers on armored vehicles drive toward Arsal, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014.                                                   (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

ARSAL, Lebanon: A temporary truce fell apart less than three hours after it was established when withdrawing militants targeted Lebanese Army posts on the hills surrounding the border village of Arsal, northeast Lebanon, a security source told The Daily Star.

The Army had agreed Tuesday evening to a 24-hour humanitarian cease-fire to allow the evacuation of wounded civilians and support ongoing efforts to release kidnapped soldiers held by militants in Arsal.

But clashes between the Army and Islamist militants flared up after the militants who were withdrawing from the town  targeted two Army posts located on the hills surrounding Arsal, the source said. The source said that despite the ceasefire the Army did not halt the shelling of the routes militants use to access the village.

The fresh clashes, however, will not scrap the agreement reached which stipulates the withdrawal of the gunmen outside the town to the mountainous areas, political and security sources confirmed to The Daily Star. These sources said the militants were still exiting the town despite the renewal of the clashes.

The cease-fire had gone into effect around 8 p.m., allowing Lebanese Red Cross ambulances to enter the town and transport wounded civilians to nearby hospitals, sources in the town told The Daily Star.

The Army approved a request by the Committee of Muslim Scholars, which has been mediating between jihadist groups and the Lebanese state, to restore calm to the northeastern town, overrun by militants from Syria, a security source said.

Sunni sheikhs with the committee informed the Army that their mission had been delayed after their convoy was attacked Monday evening, wounding three preachers.

An Army source said the military agreed to the “humanitarian cease-fire set to begin at 7 p.m. to evacuate the wounded and pave the way for the release of the remaining kidnapped soldiers.”

Earlier in the day, clashes between the Army and jihadists groups in Arsal intensified after efforts to broker a cease-fire failed to materialize, despite the release of some of the kidnapped policemen and soldiers.

The fighting has become more violent with the Army succeeding in surrounding gunmen from the northern and western sides of the town while Syrian regime troops were stationed on the border side of Arsal, a security source said.

The clashes were centered in Wadi Ata Valley, which rebel groups have used as a smuggling route for years and as a hideout in the recent battle with the Lebanese military, the source said.