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
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
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: Graduate Structural Engineer

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Structural Engineer ...

Recruitment Genius: New Business Development Manager - OTE £36,000

£22000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A New Business Manager role sui...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - Inbound & Outbound Calls

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This particular opportunity is ...

Recruitment Genius: Windows Server Engineer - Compute Engineer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Compute Engineer role also ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor