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Lebanon halted Islamic State push, army chief says

Gen. Jean Kahwaji says 27 soldiers being held by Syrian terror groups, warns civil war could erupt if jihadists gain foothold

Lebanese troops stand guard in a street on August 9, 2014, in the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal, on the border with Syria. (photo credit: AFP/STR)
Lebanese troops stand guard in a street on August 9, 2014, in the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal, on the border with Syria. (photo credit: AFP/STR)

Lebanon has thwarted Islamic State advances from Syria and other plots by the group to establish a presence in Lebanon that could have led to civil war, the commander of the Lebanese army said in comments published Friday.

“ISIS is relying for support on dormant cells in Tripoli and Akkar, in addition to certain political forces in the Sunni community [to achieve their schemes],” Gen. Jean Kahwaji said, according to Lebanese news outlet The Daily Star.

“Had they succeeded in their schemes, a civil war would have flared in Lebanon.”

According to Kahwaji, “the Army succeeded in repelling the militants [in Arsal] and pushing them back to the mountains.”

Lebanese army commander Gen. Jean Kahwaji (screen capture: YouTube/MTVLebanonNews)
Lebanese army commander Gen. Jean Kahwaji (screen capture: YouTube/MTVLebanonNews)

In July, fighters from IS and the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front attacked Lebanese security forces in Arsal, which lies on the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon.

The jihadists withdrew into the mountains around Arsal after a ceasefire, but took with them around 30 soldiers and policemen as hostages.

Three of them have since been executed, contributing to rising anxiety in Lebanon over the encroachment of jihadists and spillover from the more than three-year-old war in Syria.

Kahwaji said that Lebanon had to “be careful” with its actions due to the 27 people still being held captive.

AFP contributed to this report.

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