Lebanese army fires on Syrian helicopters ‘for violating airspace’

Officials say the Syrians were chasing rebels who were trying to sneak into Lebanon

Beirut

The Lebanese army has fired on Syrian aircraft that violated the country’s airspace, the first time they have done so since Syria’s uprising broke out three years ago.

The move suggests Beirut is trying to enforce greater respect for its borders in the hopes of slowing the expansion of the conflict into Lebanon, where it has exacerbated sectarian tensions and prompted shadowy groups to conduct attacks that have killed dozens this year.

Lebanese officials said the military fired anti-aircraft guns at two Syrian helicopters after they fired four projectiles in a mountainous area close to the eastern Lebanese town  of Arsal.

Syrian aircraft have frequently conducted strikes near the frontier and sometimes fire has hit Lebanon. Beirut has protested but not shot at them. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

A Lebanese military official could not confirm the report, but said the army has orders to shoot anything – planes, tanks or troops – that violated Lebanese territory. There was no comment from the Syrian government.

Other officials said the Syrians were chasing rebels who were trying to sneak into the country. Lebanon’s border towns dominated by Sunni Muslims have become safe shelters for rebels battling the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Syria’s three-year conflict has become increasingly sectarian as it wears on. The rebels are largely from the Sunni majority. Religious minorities, including Shias, support Assad or have remained neutral, fearing for their fate if Muslim hardliners come to power.

Those loyalties are reflected in Lebanon where Sunnis generally support the rebels, and Shias support Assad. The Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah has sent fighters to Syria to shore up Assad’s forces, adding to the tensions.

Meanwhile in Damascus, a UN official said at least 15 people have died of hunger-related illnesses in a besieged area of the city over the past four months. The deaths highlighted the Assad government’s tactic of starving out rebel-held areas.

Rebels seized the Palestinian-dominated Yarmouk district last year, part of a swathe of neighbourhoods around Damascus now held by opposition fighters.

The UN’s Relief and Works Agency that supports Palestinian refugees had until recently shipped food into the area, but has not been able to do so since September, said Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the organisation.

He said at least five people died over the weekend, but 10 people had previously passed away in the months before. The dead include men, women and children.

Gunness estimated 2,000 civilians still lived in the area, where clashes between rebels and Assad loyalists frequently break out.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly Come Dancing Christmas Special 2014:
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Life and Style
fashion
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there