Syrian War Spilling Into Lebanon, Rights Group Says

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BEIRUT, Lebanon -- A Human Rights Watch report released Monday accused both the Syrian government and the insurgency of striking residential areas in neighboring Lebanon on several occasions and killing a number of its citizens. The cross-border attacks appeared to be largely indiscriminate and threatened to further destabilize the Syrian-Lebanese frontier, Human Rights Watch said.

While the Syrian government and armed opposition groups have both said that their attacks on Lebanese villages were in retaliation for provocations, Human Rights Watch said it had not found any evidence of military targets when it visited the Lebanese villages that had been attacked.

"The nature of the rockets and launchers that appear to have been used, together with the lack of any evidence of military targets in the villages, strongly suggests these attacks were indiscriminate and therefore violate the laws of war," Human Rights Watch said in a summary of the report on its Web site.

Lebanon has officially adopted a policy of dissociation from the Syrian conflict, which has pitted the government of President Bashar al-Assad against a Sunni-dominated rebellion, but violence is beginning to spill over the border, intensifying sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

Insurgents and their sympathizers have accused Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group that supports Mr. Assad, of sending fighters into the Syrian town of Qusayr in recent weeks. On Sunday, rebel groups in Qusayr threatened to "transfer the battle of blood into the heart of Lebanon" because of what they called incitement by Hezbollah. Some rebel fighters in Qusayr also sent a message via Skype to comrades beseeching them to come and help defend against "the party of the devil" -- a disparaging reference to Hezbollah, which translates from Arabic as "the party of god."

Hezbollah has not commented on the Syrian rebels' accusations, but it has said that Lebanese citizens living inside Syria have been attacked and that they have the right to defend themselves.

Anti-Assad activists also reported on Monday that the number of deaths from an attack by government forces on a town south of Damascus had risen to at least 101, mostly civilians, and could exceed 250 if the missing remain unaccounted for, which would make the attack one of the bloodiest since the conflict began two years ago.

The attack on the town, Jdeidet al-Fadel, which happened over this past week, has been described by the Syrian opposition as an intense campaign of shelling, burning and summary executions, while the official news media has described it as a cleanup operation against terrorists that had been welcomed by area villagers.

In other Syria developments, the main anti-Assad group, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, chose a caretaker leader to replace Sheik Moaz al-Khatib until a formal election can be held. Sheik Moaz, a Sunni cleric who signaled some weeks ago that he wanted to resign, was temporarily succeeded by George Sabra, a leftist Christian dissident and outspoken critic of Mr. Assad.

Sheik Moaz formally stepped down this weekend during a meeting in Istanbul with the so-called Friends of Syria countries that are supporting Mr. Assad's adversaries. Secretary of State John Kerry, who represented the United States at the meeting, announced that Washington was doubling the nonlethal aid it supplies to the insurgency to $123 million. But the Obama administration has rejected requests by Syrian rebels for weapons.

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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