DAMASCUS, September 29 (RIA Novosti) – The Lebanese army took control Sunday of the local city of Baalbek, where the Hezbollah group clashed with fighters of the Syrian Islamist insurgency the day before, the city’s mayor said.
“[Army] troops were positioned throughout the city during the night, and strengthened roadblocks on main streets. Another attempt to draw the Lebanese into the conflict has failed,” Hamad Hassan told RIA Novosti.
Four people were detained, and talks were ongoing with the attackers about the handover of the other suspects, Hassan added, without elaborating.
He said hours earlier that clashes in the ancient city – which is located 75 kilometers west of Damascus – began around noon on Saturday and continued well into the evening.
The mayor blamed the attack on a mixed Lebanese-Syrian squad of so-called Takfiri Sunni radicals, which allegedly attacked a roadblock by the Shiite group Hezbollah near the Baalbek marketplace in the city’s center.
Hassan put the death toll at three people, including at least one Lebanese army soldier. Earlier reports about the clash spoke of up to seven victims, including two fighters of Hezbollah, a group that supports the Alawite Syrian government in its 2 1/2-year-long struggle against a domestic insurgency increasingly dominated by Sunni radicals.
“This is an unprecedented raid by the radicals, they have been firing rockets at our city across the border and now they planned a ground operation by armed squads,” Hassan said.
Media reports said the attackers at the roadblock wielded automatic rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers. Hassan said the Lebanese army was also cautious of possible Takfiri snipers active in Baalbek, a city of 72,000 that dates back to the times of Alexander the Great.
(The story was updated to include army’s takeover of Baalbek.)