Lebanon opens fire against Syrian jets that struck border town

BEIRUT — Lebanon responded with anti-aircraft fire Monday against Syrian jets that launched an airstrike on a Lebanese border town that is home to many supporters of the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad, Lebanese media reported.

Lebanon's official National News Agency said the army opened fire on the Syrian jets after a rocket attack near the eastern Sunni Muslim town of Arsal.

Arsal houses 30,000 Syrian refugees, and its population is known to back the opposition rebels fighting to topple Assad. The town is on a key route used to supply food and weapons to rebels near the central Syrian province of Homs.

Syrian aircraft fired at least three missiles, the Voice of Lebanon radio station reported. The Lebanese army opened fire, citing a violation of Lebanon's airspace.

It was the first time since the outbreak of Syria's conflict nearly three years ago that the Lebanese military took action against Syrian warplanes violating Lebanon's airspace. Syrian aircraft have targeted Arsal and its outskirts several times in the last year, killing and wounding several people.

In March, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said Syrian airstrikes on Lebanese territory were "an unacceptable violation of Lebanese sovereignty."

In Syria, Assad met with a delegation from the Gathering of Muslim Scholars in Lebanon, and he warned of threats to "the future and coexistence of the region's people" from extremist movements trained and bankrolled by Saudi Arabia, the state-run Syrian News Agency SANA reported.

Assad said that "extremism and the Wahabi mentality distort the true compassionate nature of Islam," the agency said.

Wahhabism is an ultra-conservative sect of Sunni Islam, widely practiced in Saudi Arabia.

On Sunday, Saudi King Abdullah accused Assad of "destroying his country and attracting Islamic extremists into Syria."

Since the Syrian uprising started in 2011, Saudi Arabia has been a main backer of the Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad.

Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that it has received several death threats on its official page and to the personal emails of some of its activists for what it described as its unbiased documentation of violence in Syria.

"We have received tons of death threats messages from people who pretend to be from the opposition," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the observatory, said, noting that they began after his group published information last week about the deaths of dozens of Islamist rebels from regime fire near Damascus.

"We will continue to report all the violations committed from both sides, because our main concern is to report the violations against the people of Syria ... and not to hide the truth," he told the German news agency dpa.

Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, the Observatory has documented both violence and the death toll on both sides — for the regime and the rebels, as well as civilians. It relies on a vast network of lawyers, doctors and activists in Syria.

The Observatory was set up in 2006.

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