Lebanon sends troops to Syrian border as rebels flee after fall of stronghold to Assad forces

The Associated Press

Lebanese army soldiers from a commandos unit, prepare to search an area where they blew up a bomb-packed parked car, in a field outside the village of Fakiha, near the Lebanese and Syria border, in northeast Lebanon, Monday, March 17, 2014. Lebanese commandos combed the tense border areas between Lebanon and Syria early Monday shortly after troops discovered and denoted an SUV rigged with explosives. The Lebanese army is searching for rebels crossing into the country after their last stronghold on the other side of the frontier fell into Syrian government hands on Sunday. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

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A Lebanese militant Sunni group claimed responsibility Monday for a car bombing the previous night in Nabi Othman, a predominantly Shiite town in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley that also has a significant Christian community.

The Nusra Front in Lebanon said in a statement posted on its Twitter account that the attack, in which two people were killed and 14 were wounded, was in revenge for Hezbollah's support for Assad and "a quick response" for the fall of Yabroud into Syrian government hands.

Syria's 3-year-old conflict has devastated the country, killing more than 140,000 people and forcing millions from their homes.

The crisis started as largely peaceful protests against Assad's rule in March 2011. It turned into a civil war after opposition supporters took up arms to fight a brutal government crackdown on dissent.

From the start, the rebels have been outgunned by the Syrian military, which has relied heavily on its air force to batter rebel-held regions. However, the rebels' resolve to overthrow Assad was significantly weakened after rival rebel groups, often backed by local tribal militias, turned on each other in battles over areas they had previously captured together from government forces.

More than 3,000 rebels have been killed in the infighting, and a spokesman for the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front in Syria's Qalamoun region blamed the fall of Yabroud on rebel-on-rebel clashes and rivalries.

"Yabroud did not fall. Yabroud was handed over to the (Syrian) regime and Hezbollah," said the spokesman, Abdullah Azzam al-Shami in comments posted on a militant website Monday.

He said Nusra front fighters in Yabroud were determined to hold the town but had to withdraw after rebels from other groups abandoned their positions in the surrounding hills, opening the way for Assad's troops to push in from the east.

The Syrian Nusra Front's relation to the much smaller Nusra Front in Lebanon is unclear.

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Surk reported from Beirut. Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

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