Evening Lull Violated in Arsal after Accord Reached on Withdrawal of Gunmen, Release of Soldiers in Captivityإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
An agreement was reached on Tuesday evening in the northeastern border region of Arsal after the Muslim Scholars Committee mediated to release all soldiers held captive by extremists militants, and to assure the withdrawal of foreign armed groups from the Bekaa area.
However, hours after the accord was sealed, armed groups violated the truce and attacked army posts in Arsal's Wadi al-Raayan and Wadi Ata regions.
MTV also reported that around 3,000 armed men who were not involved in the fighting expressed readiness to withdraw from Arsal, but noted that gunfire exchange halted their plans.
And the state-run National News Agency said some leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant erected checkpoints late in the evening inside the Bekaa region and prevented residents from leaving the areas despite the “truce.”
The agreement to lull was reached in the evening after the Committee's delegation came under fire in the Bekaa town and it also followed the release of three troops in the afternoon.
Sheikh Salem al-Rafei, a member of the Committee, was safely evacuated from the area after being wounded by gunmen overnight.
The Lebanese Red Cross announced that al-Rafei was taken to a hospital in the Bekaa, adding that he was in good health despite his injury.
Meanwhile, two Internal Security Force members and a soldier were released by the gunmen after being held captive by al-Nusra Front gunmen over the weekend.
Two of the released men were identified as Mtanious Mrad and Khaled Solh.
The three-member Muslim Scholars Committee delegation arrived in Arsal on Monday and reportedly sustained gunshot wounds after their convoy came under fire at night.
Media reports said that al-Rafei was injured in his foot while Sheikhs Nabil al-Halabi and Jalal Kalash sustained minor wounds.
The Muslim Scholars Committee later said that there is no conclusive evidence on the group that targeted the convoy of the delegation.
“We will go on with our initiative no matter what,” the committee said.
It pointed out that al-Rafei needs a surgery after sustaining a severe injury.
LBCI television said that despite targeting the scholars' delegation with fire, negotiations continued in Arsal and al-Rafei listened to militants' demands.
The gunmen expressed their willingness to withdraw from the Bekaa region, and noted that a group of militants had “committed a mistake and was followed by all other factions,” LBCI reported.
Later on, al-Halabi shared the truce initiative with officials at the Grand Serail and contacted army chief General Jean Qahwaji over the same matter.
According to him, the initiative includes the withdrawal of all gunmen on Tuesday evening from Arsal, and releasing the all soldiers and security forces held captive by the extremist groups.
It also includes gunmen handing over their posts in Arsal to the region's figures who will then place them under the army and other legal bodies' authorities.
The Muslim Scholars Committee expressed fear that the developments in Arsal would impact Lebanon “negatively.”
“We are seeking to force gunmen to withdraw from Arsal and the return of Lebanese armed men to Lebanon,” the committee added.
“They are seeking to reach a permanent ceasefire in the area,” Muslim Scholars Committee member Sheikh Ihab al-Banna told LBCI.
Clashes intensified overnight in Arsal with the army mounting a major onslaught against Islamist militants to smother them and force them to withdraw outside Lebanese territories.
Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji stressed that the army will not abide by any truce or ceasefire before knowing the fate of the kidnapped security personnel and civilians.
“The army is determined to free Arsal from the occupation imposed by takfiris and it will not cease to open fire until they withdraw,” Qahwaji was quoted as saying by his visitors.
LBCI reported that the army fortified its presence in the area overnight.
The army announced on Monday that 14 troops were killed and 86 wounded, while 22 are missing in the Arsal fighting.
While Sheikh Mustafa al-Hujairi, a resident of Arsal, said that the 16 ISF members and 19 soldiers “are safe and being held inside Lebanon, not Syria.”
Emile Hokayem, a senior fellow for regional security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in comments to Agence France Presse that the situation in Arsal was an inevitable "spillover" from the Syrian conflict.
"As much as the Lebanese like to think that Syria's problems are coming to Lebanon, the reality is that Lebanon sent fighters for and against Assad to Syria... so we shouldn't be surprised that it's coming here."
He said the situation in Arsal could be contained in the short-term, but warned an aggressive army response or the involvement of Hizbullah would anger Lebanon's Sunnis.
The clashes began at the weekend after the arrest of a Syrian man accused of belonging to al-Qaida's Syrian branch Al-Nusra Front.
Following his arrest, gunmen surrounded army posts before opening fire, sparking the clashes.
Arsal is majority Sunni Muslim and broadly sympathetic to the Sunni-dominated uprising next door against Syria's Bashar Assad.