Syria conflict spills into Lebanon


Syria's conflict spilled further into Lebanon today when mortar fire from government forces crashed into villages in the north, killing two women and a man after rebels crossed the border for refuge.

In contrast with Turkey, which openly harbours rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Lebanon was not expected to respond militarily and has played down the effect of regular clashes along the frontier.

But rebels have used north Lebanon as a base and Assad's forces have at times bombed villages and even crossed the border in pursuit of militants, threatening to inflame tensions in Lebanon given a long history of Syrian domination there.

Residents of Lebanon's Wadi Khaled region said several mortar bombs hit farm buildings five to 20 km from the border at around 2 am. At midday villagers reported more explosions and said they heard gunfire close to the border.

In the village of al-Mahatta, a house was destroyed, killing a 16-year-old girl and wounding a two-year old and a four-year old. A 25-year-old woman and a man were killed in nearby villages, residents said.

The Lebanese army issued a brief statement about the incident. There was no immediate response from the prime minister or the foreign ministry, both of whom have expressed fears that Lebanon could be dragged into the conflict.

Turkey reinforced its border and scrambled fighter aircraft on several occasions last week after Syria shot down a Turkish warplane on June 22nd.

In Syria, the army bombarded towns across northern Aleppo province today in a concerted effort to root out insurgents who have taken control of some areas, the anti-government Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"The bombing is the heaviest since the start of military operations in rural Aleppo in an attempt to control the region after regular Syrian army forces suffered heavy losses over the past few months," the British-based activist group reported. It said three people had died, including two rebels.

Aleppo, Syria's second largest city and commercial hub, has been largely spared of the violence. But the outskirts of the city and the wider province have seen rebels gaining territory since the uprising began 16 months ago.

Opposition activists say at least 15,000 people have been killed over that time. Assad says the rebels are foreign-backed terrorists who have killed thousands of army and police troops in hit-and-run attacks and roadside bombings.