Lebanese Minister: Syrian Militants Have Occupied Lebanese Town on Syrian Border

Arsal, in north-eastern Lebanon, is home to around 120,000 Syrian refugees; the town has been supporting Syrian opposition rebels since 2011.

Al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front fighters carry their weapons on the back of a pick-up truck during a prisoner exchange in Arsal, Lebanon, December 1, 2015.
Reuters

Rebels fighting in Syria are occupying a north-eastern Lebanese border town that is home to thousands of Syrian refugees, Lebanese Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouk said Friday.

"The region of Arsal is occupied, and our main policy is to avoid being dragged into the Syrian conflict," al-Mashnouk said.

His remarks were made days after Wl-Qaida's Syria branch, Nusra Front, released 16 Lebanese servicemen abducted in August 2014 in a swap with the government in Beirut, which released 13 prisoners linked to the militant group.

Live television broadcasts of Tuesday's exchange showed Nusra Front insurgents in full control of the outskirts of Arsal.

"It is easy to launch a military campaign in Arsal, but we choose not to do so," al-Mashnouk said without naming Nusra as the occupiers.

He estimated the number of Syrian refugees living in Arsal at 120,000.

Lebanon is home to about 1.2 million Syrians who have fled a civil war in their homeland, which is now in its fifth year.

Arsal is a mainly Muslim Sunni town which has been backing Syrian opposition rebels since the outbreak of the uprising in Syria in 2011.