Syrian Helicopters Attack North Lebanon Border Town

Syrian helicopters attacked homes and roads in the heart of a Lebanese border town, drawing Syria’s smaller neighbor deeper into its civil war.

While Syrian warplanes and helicopters have fired missiles on the outskirts of Ersal before, today’s assault on the northeastern town was a rare attack on a Lebanese urban center and suggestive of the sectarian nature of the widening war.

The Lebanese Army said in a statement that a Syrian helicopter fired two missiles at the center of Ersal, injuring one resident. It said the army has taken the necessary “defensive measures to instantly respond to any similar violation.”

Ersal is mostly Sunni Muslim, as are rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The strike took place following a funeral in Ersal for a local Sunni man shot dead by unidentified gunmen while driving through a mostly Shiite town, LBC TV said.

LBC said the dead man’s brother blamed the killing on Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite militant group that has joined the fighting on Assad’s behalf and is credited with helping his forces deal a recent series of setbacks to rebels.

He said Ersal’s residents were being punished for housing 25,000 Syrian refugees, most living on empty plots, gardens and streets, according to LBC.

The Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011, has spilled into Lebanon, deepening Sunni-Shiite rifts and sparking sporadic fighting between pro- and anti-Assad forces.

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