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Syrian violence spills into Jordan, Lebanon

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BEIRUT (AP) — A Jordanian soldier was killed in clashes with armed militants trying to cross the border into Syria on Monday, and sectarian clashes overnight in Lebanon left two dead as Syria's civil war spilled into neighboring countries.

Jordanian Information Minister Sameeh Maaytah said the soldier was the first killed in violence related to Syria's civil war. He died in clashes with militants trying to illegally enter Syria to join rebels fighting President Bashar Assad's regime. Mr. Maaytah did not say whether the militants were Jordanians or foreign fighters trying to jump into the fray in the neighboring country.

A number of foreign Islamists have been fighting in Syria alongside the rebels. Jordan's banned Salafi movement — which promotes an ultraconservative brand of Islam — has sent several fighters to Syria in past months, and Jordanian border patrols have caught some of them recently.

In Lebanon, troops launched a major security operation to open all roads and force gunmen off the streets, trying to contain an outburst of violence set off by the assassination of a top intelligence official who was a powerful opponent of Syria. Sectarian clashes overnight killed at least two people.

Sporadic cracks of gunfire could be heard in the Lebanese capital as troops began the operation a day after the funeral for the slain official, Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan.

Opponents of Syria have blamed the regime in Damascus for the al-Hassan's killing in a Beirut car bomb on Friday. With Lebanon already tense and deeply divided over the civil war next door, the assassination has threatened to drag the country back into the kind of sectarian strife that plagued it for decades — much of it linked to Syria.

In the Lebanese capital, soldiers backed by armored personal carriers with heavy machine guns took up position on major thoroughfares and dismantled roadblocks. At times, troops exchanged gunfire with Sunni gunmen.

Al-Hassan was a Sunni who challenged Syria and its powerful Lebanese ally, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. The uprising in Syria is dominated by the Sunni majority fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad, who, like many in his regime, is a member of the Alawite sect — an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Lebanon and Syria share similar sectarian divides that have fed tensions in both countries.

Most of Lebanon's Sunnis have backed Syria's mainly Sunni rebels, while Lebanese Shiites tend to back Mr. Assad.

The assassination has imperiled Lebanon's fragile political balance. Many politicians blamed Damascus for the killing, and angry protesters tried to storm the government palace after al-Hassan's funeral on Sunday, venting their rage at leaders they consider puppets of a murderous Syrian regime. The demonstrators were pushed back by troops who opened fire in the air and lobbed volleys of tear gas.

Meanwhile, cease-fire efforts by U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi appeared to be faltering.

Syria's state-run news agency, SANA, said Damascus supports the truce proposal but would not commit to halting fire during a four-day Muslim holiday until Western countries and their Gulf allies stop supporting rebels and halt their weapons supplies to the anti-regime fighters.

Mr. Brahimi met with Mr. Assad in Damascus on Sunday as part of his push for a cease-fire between rebels and government forces for the Eid al-Adha holiday, which begins Oct. 26. He told reporters following a closed-door meeting that he also had held talks earlier with opposition groups inside and outside the country and received "promises" but not a "commitment" from them to honor the cease-fire.

SANA said Mr. Assad assured Mr. Brahimi that he supported his effort but that any political solution to the conflict must be "based on the principle of halting terrorism, a commitment from the countries involved in supporting, arming and harboring terrorists in Syria to stop doing such acts."

More than 33,000 people have been killed since the uprising started in March last year.

Syrian authorities blame the revolt on a foreign conspiracy and accuse Saudi Arabia and Qatar — along with the United States, other Western countries and Turkey — of funding, training and arming the rebels, whom they describe as "terrorists."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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