4 killed in clashes in Lebanese border town

2013-02-01 15:43:29 GMT2013-02-01 23:43:29(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

BEIRUT, Feb. 1 (Xinhua) -- One Lebanese army officer and 3 soldiers were killed and a number of others wounded Friday in clashes between the army and gunmen in the Bekaa town of Arsal, reported various media outlets.

The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) said that at least five Lebanese soldiers were among six people killed between unidentified gunmen and the army on the border with Syria.

It reported that the clashes erupted in light of the shooting and kidnapping of Khaled Hmayyed, identifying him as a member of the group that abducted seven Estonians in Lebanon in 2011 in Arsal.

The seven Estonians were kidnapped in Lebanon in March 2011 as they entered the country by as part of a bicycle tour from Syria.

They were held in the Bekaa area and released in July 2011.

The abductors, believed to be a previously unknown group called Haraket al-Nahda Wal-Islah (Movement for Renewal and Reform), had reportedly demanded ransom in exchange for the release of the Estonians.

LBC said that the Lebanese security agencies had labeled Hmayyed as a member of a "terrorist group," adding that his activity was constantly being monitored.

Other sources said he was a member of the extremist al-Nusra Front, which is active in the Syrian revolt.

The Orange TV reported later that Hmayyed recently joined the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Initial reports had said that the Bekaa clash erupted as the army was cracking down on a kidnapping and robbery gang.

They added that the army was clashing with members of the Free Syrian Army.

Arsal is a Lebanese town very close to the Syrian border and has been the scene of many infiltrations by the Syrian army chasing rebels who have taken refuge in this mostly Sunnite town.

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