In Lebanon, bomb damages van en route to Syria


BEIRUT (AP) — A roadside bomb lightly damaged a van that was heading from Lebanon to Syria Monday, Lebanese security officials said, as rebels and government forces fought in Syria’s northern province of Aleppo.

The violence came a day after Syria’s Defense Minister Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij said that last week’s army capture of the strategic town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon “is a main point toward restoring security and stability to every inch of our nation.”

The conflict started with largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad’s regime in March 2011 but eventually turned into a civil war that according to the United Nations has killed more than 80,000 people.

The officials said the van was struck by the bomb on a road in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa valley but kept driving toward the border, then crossed into Syria. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said there appeared to be no casualties in the bombing.

The officials said the bombed weighed half a kilogram (one pound) and was apparently detonated by remote control. The bomb created a small hole on the side of the road.

Lebanon is bitterly divided over Syria’s civil war, with gunmen from rival religious sects fighting on opposite sides of the conflict. Sunnis mostly back the opposition while many Shiites support Assad’s regime, which is dominated by members of the president’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The Lebanese Shiite militant Hezbollah group has taken an increasingly prominent role, helping Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops capture Qusair. In apparent retaliation, scores of rockets have been fired recently from Syria into Hezbollah strongholds in northeastern Lebanon.

Senior Hezbollah official Sheikh Nabil Kaouk said the group will not change it position regarding Syria regardless of “how much local, regional and international pressure increases.”

In Aleppo, activists said that rebels advanced inside the sprawling air base of Mannagh near the border with Turkey. The base has been under siege for months and rebels have been trying to capture it with no success.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels captured a building inside the air base. The opposition’s Aleppo Media Center said rebels were able to destroy several army vehicles and capture the observation tower.

It was the second major attack by the rebels on the air base within days.

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