BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels fought with gunmen from Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia in a deadly clash on Lebanese soil overnight, a security official and local media said Sunday, in the latest sign Syria’s civil war is spilling over the country’s borders.
It was the worst clash on Lebanese territory since the outbreak of the conflict more than two years ago.
Hezbollah and Syria’s rebels fight on opposite sides inside Syria, and tensions between them have risen sharply since the Lebanese militia stepped up its armed support for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime last month.
Rebel fighters have threatened to attack Hezbollah bases in Lebanon, and on Saturday, 18 rockets and mortar rounds hit Lebanon’s eastern Baalbek region, a Hezbollah stronghold.
Overnight from Saturday to Sunday, Hezbollah apparently encircled and ambushed a group of Syrian rebels and allied Lebanese fighters whom they suspected of rocketing Baalbek a day earlier, said the Lebanese security official. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations and because of the vagueness of details.
He said a Hezbollah fighter and several rebels were killed in the clashes in a remote area between Baalbek and the Syrian border.
The Lebanese TV station Al-Mayadeen, seen as sympathetic to the Syrian regime, quoted Lebanese security officials as saying 17 fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, a rebel group linked to the global al Qaeda terror network, were killed in the fighting.
The growing tensions between Hezbollah and rebels trying to oust Mr. Assad are linked to a regime offensive against the rebel-held town of Qusair in western Syria. Hezbollah’s involvement in the battle for control of the strategic town has exposed its growing role in the Syria conflict, prompting rebel threats to target Hezbollah’s bases in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, low-flying Israeli warplanes again violated Lebanese airspace, overflying the capital of Beirut, the eastern Bekaa Valley and the city of Baalbek, Lebanese security officials and the state-run news agency said.
Israeli warplanes regularly enter Lebanese airspace. A security official confirmed the Sunday overflights and said they were among the most intense recently. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.
There was no immediate comment from Israel.
The flights come amid heightened regional tensions because of the civil war in Syria.
Israel is believed to have carried out three airstrikes inside Syria this year said to be aimed at weapons meant for Hezbollah.
Also Sunday, a car bomb killed at least three people in Jobar, a suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus, said a Syrian government official who insisted on anonymity because he is not allowed to brief reporters.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition group, said the blast targeted a police station and killed nine Syrian soldiers. It said the al-Qaeda-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra carried out the attack.
Syria’s state news agency, SANA, blamed the blast on a suicide bomber, saying he blew up his explosive-packed car, which was parked in the residential area. The Observatory and SANA said the explosion took place amid heavy fighting. Jobar is a scene of frequent clashes, with rebels trying to push from there toward the capital.
The army has been conducting massive sweeps through opposition strongholds around Damascus, including Jobar.
• Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damscus and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this article.
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