Four Shiite Lebanese men were killed Sunday in an ambush in a volatile area by the border with Syria, hiking already-high sectarian tensions and concerns over the spillover of the civil war raging next door.
Gunmen from the families of the slain Shiites took to the streets and set up roadblocks between their town and the neighboring Sunni majority town of Arsal, accusing residents there of being behind the killings.
The delicate religious and sectarian balance in Lebanon, home to more than 18 sects, has been disrupted by the war across the border in Syria. Tensions have been high for months, with Lebanon’s Sunnis largely supporting their brethren in Syria who make up the majority of the rebellion, while Shiites have supported President Bashar Assad.
But Lebanon’s splits have been further inflamed after Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group openly joined the fight in Syria on the side of Assad, helping his troops crush rebels in a town just over the border in Syria.
Late Sunday, an explosion shook the Damascus neighborhood of Mazzeh, and Syrian state TV said “terrorists” — the term the regime uses for rebels — had attempted to hit a military airbase there.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a wide network of activists on the ground in Syria, said a car bomb detonated at a checkpoint near the military airport in Mazzeh. It said there were reports of casualties, but it did not have specific numbers.
The four Shiites were ambushed and killed in the northern part of Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, near the Syrian border, security officials said.