Rockets from Syria hit Lebanese towns, killing 7

ZEINA KARAM Associated Press Published:

BEIRUT (AP) -- A barrage of almost two dozen missiles and shells from Syria slammed into Lebanese border towns and villages on Friday, killing seven people, including several children who were out playing, Lebanese security officials said.

The attack was the latest incident in what has been an increasing spillover of Syria's civil war into neighboring Lebanon, where violence from rockets, car bombs and sectarian clashes has claimed dozens of lives in the past year.

Most of Friday's casualties occurred in the town of Arsal, where thousands of Syrians have fled to escape their country's civil war over the past months. The state-run news agency said the attacks also wounded 15 people.

It was not immediately clear who fired the rockets, which struck several towns and villages in the northern Bekaa Valley, including Baalbek, Hermel and Arsal. A security official in the area said it was not known whether it was errant shells or deliberate firing. There was a total of 20 impacts, he said.

Residents in the area said heavy fighting between Syrian troops and rebels has been taking place on the Syrian side of the border since Thursday. Loud explosions could be heard from across the border and smoke billowed from the Syrian side.

Arsal is located across the border from Syria's rugged Qalamoun region where the Syrian government has been on the offensive for weeks, capturing a number of towns and villages in the area.

Syrian forces often chase rebels sneaking in and out of Lebanon. Communities on the Lebanese side of the border dominated by Sunni Muslims have become safe havens for rebels battling the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The conflict has exacerbated tensions between Lebanon's Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and prompted shadowy radical groups to conduct deadly attacks against Shiite strongholds.

On Thursday, a car bomb struck the center of the predominantly Shiite town of Hermel, which is about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the Syrian border and a stronghold of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group. At least three people were killed and more than 20 wounded in that attack.

Syrian rebels have in the past fired on Shiite strongholds inside Lebanon, saying those attacks were in retaliation for Hezbollah's involvement in Syria's civil war on Assad's side.