Syrian aircraft that entered Lebanese airspace were fired upon by the Lebanese armed forces. According to security officials, the Syrian helicopters that violated Lebanese airspace fired four missiles at a mountainous area near the border town of Arsal and the Lebanese Army responded with antiaircraft guns. No injuries were reported.
As Syria’s civil war worsens, the Lebanese government has been under pressure to tighten its borders. Political and sectarian divisions in Lebanon have led to an increasing number of car bombings, shellings and street battles in various parts of the country. Arsal is a location where many Syrian refugees and rebel fighters cross into Lebanon. There was no comment from the Syrian state news media on the episode immediately available.
The government of Lebanon recently accepted a $3 billion aid package from Saudi Arabia intended to bolster the army. The amount of the aid package is said to be larger than the country’s entire defense budget. The aid package was welcomed as the army has faced a growing array of threats from militants inside the country. However, supporters of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group, viewed it as a provocative bid to reduce the group’s influence over the army in Lebanon. Iran-backed Hezbollah supports the Syrian government, while Saudi Arabia supports the Syrian insurgency.
The army’s new assertiveness against the violation of Lebanese airspace was speculated to arise from Saudi Arabia’s bidding and was possibly eased by the aid package. However, security officials reported that it was policy to respond to any violation of territory. Last summer, the Lebanese military stated that they would attack any troops, vehicles or warplanes that violated Lebanese territory from Syria.
As militants cross into Syria, the Lebanese Army has been hard pressed to control the borders. Near the border, there have been attacks by Syrian warplanes on rebels as well as unsolved car bombings targeting civilian areas. Reports from the official National News Agency state that the army has also pursued and killed Syrian insurgents on Lebanese territory.