Syria's Assad Threatens to Strike at Rebels in Lebanon

Syria's FM tells Lebanese counterpart that a 'large number' of militants have crossed Lebanon's northern border into the Syrian town of Tel Kalakh over the past two days; Friday is second anniversary of uprising against Bashar Assad.

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Syria has warned it may strike at rebels hiding in neighbouring Lebanon if the Lebanese army does not act, as its patience "is not unlimited," the state news agency SANA said on Friday, as the country marked two years since the start of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Syria's Foreign Ministry told its Lebanese counterpart late on Thursday that a "large number" of militants had crossed Lebanon's northern border into the Syrian town of Tel Kalakh over the past two days, SANA said.

"Syria expects the Lebanese side to prevent these armed terrorist groups from using the borders as a crossing point, because they target Syrian people and are violating Syrian sovereignty," the diplomatic cable said.

It said Syria's "patience is not unlimited", even though "Syrian forces have so far exercised restraint from striking at armed gangs inside Lebanese territory."

Fighting near the border resulted in a large number of casualties, SANA said, before the gunmen retreated into Lebanon.

Lebanon has a policy of "dissociation" from the two-year-old civil war in Syria but officials say they feel their country is increasingly at risk of being dragged into a conflict that the United Nations says has killed 70,000 Syrians.

More than one million Syrians are believed to have taken shelter in Lebanon.

They live among a nation of 4 million, which fought its own devastating 1975-1990 civil war and whose own sectarian tensions between Christians, Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims have been heightened by the fighting in Syria.

Tensions between Lebanese groups that support the Syrian opposition and those that support Assad have been intensifying and have sometimes turned violent.

Two years since uprising began

Syrians marked the second anniversary of the uprising against Assad's regime Friday amidst ongoing violence and mounting calls in Europe to review a weapons embargo that prevents the arming of opposition rebels.

Government warplanes bombarded several volatile areas Friday, opposition activists said. The southern province of Daraa, where the uprising began in March 2011, and the rebel towns of Shabaa and al-Maliha near Damascus were targeted, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Troops fired Scud rockets in areas in the north where opposition forces recently made significant gains, local activists from the Syria Revolution General Committee said.

The reports could not be independently verified as the government has barred most foreign media from the country.

The opposition said it planned to mark the anniversary of the uprising with rallies in all areas under its control.

In Brussels, meanwhile, European Union leaders were expected to discuss the lifting of an arms embargo on the country.

France and Britain are pushing for the embargo to be scrapped in following demands by the opposition for heavy weapons to fight Assad's forces.

"We cannot remain simply in a regime of sanctions," French President Francois Hollande said Thursday. "We have to go further."

Both Paris and London have threatened to flout the EU embargo if their European counterparts do not lift the ban.

Some countries have however expressed concern that more weapons could lead to an escalation in the conflict.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of the danger of "supplying the other side with more weapons too" if the embargo is lifted.

The Syria uprising, which began with peaceful protests in the south of the country on March 15, 2011, developed into an armed conflict that has claimed more than 70,000 lives.

One million people have fled the conflict to neighbouring countries.

Syrian rebels make victory signs as they patrol a street in the town of Tal Abyad near the border with Turkey, last year. Credit: AFP

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