The Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIS, has launched an initiative to conquer land in Lebanon, even though the terrorist group does not have a strong presence there. The Lebanese army continues to fight after IS captured its first portion of Lebanese land, border town Arsal, on Sunday.
Four civilians are dead. Soldiers surrounded the town of 40,000 residents and continue to shell it in an effort to liberate the people from IS. Residents have fled, but the people stuck in the middle are the refugees who fled Syria during the civil war. The United Nations said that “[M]ore than a third of the 1.1 million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon are in the Bekaa Valley” which holds Arsal. From The New York Times:
Arsal is also one of the temporary homes for many of the Syrian war refugees who have sought sanctuary in eastern Lebanon, and witnesses said Lebanese Army checkpoints were refusing to let the refugees relocate deeper into the country. Some refugees said they were panicking because they had nowhere to go.
The Lebanese Army statement said its casualties from three days of fighting totaled 14 soldiers killed, 86 wounded and 22 missing, with at least some of them presumed captured by the militants. More than 20 Islamist fighters were also believed to have been killed, but it was impossible to determine their precise casualties.
A man named Walid spoke to the Times and said the shelling burned down one refugee camp.
“Some residents here are angry with us – they’re refusing to host any of us, thinking that we are behind such fighting, as if we were the ones who welcomed the insurgents,” he said.
“The situation is miserable,” said deputy mayor Ahmad Flitti. “Now the shelters are full. Soon we are going to have shortages in drugs, and hospitals here will not be able to receive more wounded.”
— ???? (@jeanassy) August 4, 2014
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) August 4, 2014
Lebanese Army tanks arrive outside Arsal. pic.twitter.com/olSjHdlj3B
— Kareem Shaheen (@kshaheen) August 5, 2014
To some it should not be a surprise IS seeks to claim Lebanon. Lebanon originally laughed off IS’s caliphate claims in June, but the small country was quickly hit by attacks, and police arrested suspected suicide bombers. Despite not having a mujahideen presence there, IS support showed up in Tripoli – Lebanon’s second-largest city – as two black flags appeared in shops. From Lebanon’s The Daily Star:
While the first Islamist flag, or al-raya, is a ubiquitous sight in Tripoli – where it is hung from street posts and across storefronts to show piety and Sunni pride – the second is far less common.
Yet the ISIS-affiliated insignia is increasingly appearing outside some shops around Tripoli and is being donned by protesters at Islamist rallies in the city, a potential signal of the radical group’s growing reach and level of support in Lebanon’s second-biggest city. Others, however, insist it is merely a symbol of Sunni unity and pride.