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LAF advances on border militants

The army said it dealt "direct hits" to militants east of Ras Baalbek.

Lebanese artillery units fire 155 mm shells. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)

BEIRUT – The Lebanese army conducted a sweeping dawn offensive Thursday in the eastern Beqaa against Islamist militants holed up in the desolate border region.

 

“To secure towns and villages on the eastern border, and prevent terrorist groups infiltrating and attacking citizens, army units carried out today at dawn a swift military operation in the Ras Baalbek mountains,” the Lebanese Armed Forces announced.

 

The LAF added that it had taken “complete control of the Sadr al-Jarash and Harf al-Jarash elevations, and northeast Tallet al-Hamra […] without any injuries within [army] ranks.”

 

“Direct hits were dealt to [militant] ranks and a number of IEDs were confiscated as well as medium to light weaponry, ammunition and military materiel.”

 

Lebanon’s state National News Agency reported Thursday morning that the LAF had mobilized a large number of military reinforcements at newly taken posts after “repulsing three infiltration attempts Wednesday against its positions in Tallet al-Hamra and Umm Khaled in the Ras Baalbek mountains.”

 

Later in the day, the NNA said mountainous areas outside Arsal and Ras Baalbek were “witnessing intermittent clashes in which heavy artillery and helicopters are being used [by the army].”

 

“The army is working, from its new positions, to follow the movement of militants in [areas of] the Qalamoun Mountains parallel to Arsal.”

 

Turkish Anadolu news agency reported that the LAF was flying reconnaissance planes over the border region and that the army had established “new bases and observation posts in the Ras Baalbek mountains.”

 

The LAF in recent months has reinforced its defensive lines in the eastern Beqaa along the Anti-Lebanon Mountain range, from where Islamist militants have launched probing raids raids into Lebanon.

 

A number of Lebanese media outlets, as well as Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, have all warned of an impending “spring war” in the Beqaa pitting Syria-based Islamists against the Lebanese army.

 

ISIS and Al-Nusra Front fighters have clashed repeatedly with the Lebanese army and Hezbollah in the eastern Beqaa, most dramatically in August of last year when militants swept through Arsal and took 20 Lebanese security force members hostage in five days of fighting before withdrawing.

 

In early October, the Al-Nusra Front attacked Hezbollah positions in Brital, and in January militants killed eight LAF soldiers in fighting outside Ras Baalbek. 

 

On February 8, as the LAF was bolstering its defensive lines, the US delivered a large consignment of weapons worth approximately $25 million, including 70 M198 Howitzer heavy artillery pieces needed by the Lebanese army, which has been regularly shelling militant positions along the border with Syria.

 

“We’re proud to know that very soon, your brave soldiers will be using [the howitzers], along with other US-supplied equipment, to defeat the terrorist and extremist threat from Syria,” said US envoy David Hale during the handover ceremony.

 

Jordan has also stepped into the mix, with King Abdullah II promising to aid Lebanon’s army and security forces in its defense against Islamist militants as his country escalates its campaign against ISIS.

 

On Monday, the Royal Jordanian Armed Forces announced it had dispatched armored personnel carriers and tank transports to its Lebanese counterpart, part of Jordan’s broader efforts to aid Lebanon.

 

Meanwhile, France’s Defense Ministry on Wednesday confirmed that the first batch of its weapon shipments, financed by a multi-billion dollar Saudi Arabian grant, would begin to arrive in Lebanon in April.

Lebanese artillery units fire 155 mm shells. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)

Direct hits were dealt to [militant] ranks and a number of IEDs were confiscated as well as medium to light weaponry, ammunition and military materiel.”