Late last week, fighters affiliated with ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra reportedly pulled out of the town of Arsal, located in northeastern Lebanon near its border with Syria, after holing up there for five days and engaging in heavy fighting with Lebanese forces. At least 42 civilians were killed in the fighting along with 17 Lebanese soldiers and untold numbers of militants, and several captured Lebanese soldiers were taken by the remaining militants as hostages.
Lebanon is no stranger to violence spilling over from Syria’s ongoing civil war, but this was easily the biggest spillover yet and the first time ISIS and Nusra have tried to operate in Lebanon in a sustained way. The fighting started on August 2, when Lebanese authorities captured a Nusra commander and both ISIS and Nusra responded by attacking Lebanese forces. The militants captured the town and, along with it, a number of Lebanese soldiers and policemen. The fighting then continued through Thursday, when a deal was reached to let the remaining attackers head back toward the Syrian border while Lebanese forces moved in to retake the town.
Arsal has been receiving refugees from Syria for some time now, and the fighting must have been a horrible reminder for them of what they were trying to flee in the first place; indeed, a large number of Syrian refugees actually fled Arsal and tried to cross back in to Syria, though they were stopped pending some bureaucratic investigations into how they originally got into Lebanon. It remains to be seen whether this is simply another isolated incident of spillover or the beginning of a widening of the Syrian war into Lebanon on a more regular basis. Hopefully the former.