2 Syrian rockets hit Lebanon as tensions rise
BY BASSEM MROUE | The Associated Press April 23, 2013 9:14AM
Updated: April 23, 2013 2:01PM
BEIRUT — Two Syrian rockets struck Lebanon on Tuesday, causing damage and heightening tensions between Lebanese Shiite and Sunni communities over neighboring Syria’s civil war, security officials in Beirut said.
Rockets apparently fired by Syrian rebels have hit mostly Shiite areas in Lebanon several times in the past two weeks. One salvo killed at least two people.
Tuesday’s rocket attack came hours after two leading Lebanese Sunni Muslim clerics called for holy war, or jihad, in Syria. They appealed to fighters to protect Sunnis in villages under attack by Syrian troops and pro-government Shiite gunmen.
Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries that are easily enflamed. Lebanon, a country plagued by decades of strife, has been on edge since the uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted in March 2011.
Pro and anti-Assad groups in Lebanon have engaged in deadly clashes. Many Lebanese Shiites back Assad, whose regime is dominated by members his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Lebanese Sunnis back the rebels, who are mostly from that country’s Sunni majority.
In Israel, a senior military intelligence official said that Assad used chemical weapons last month against rebels. It was the first time that Israel has accused the embattled Syrian leader of using his stockpile of nonconventional weapons.
Brig. Gen. Itai Brun of Israeli military intelligence told a security conference in Tel Aviv, “To the best of our professional understanding, the regime used lethal chemical weapons against the militants in a series of incidents over the past months.”
“Shrunken pupils, foaming at the mouth and other signs indicate, in our view, that lethal chemical weapons were used,” he said.
The officials in Beirut said one of the rockets Tuesday hit a house under construction on the edge of the northeastern town of Hermel near the Lebanon-Syria border. The other fell in a field, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
There was heavy fighting on the Syrian side of the border around the strategic town of Qusair, where troops and pro-government Shiite gunmen backed by Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group have been advancing for days.
Syria’s conflict started with largely peaceful protests against Assad’s regime in March 2011 but turned into a civil war. More than 70,000 people have been killed, according to the United Nations.