x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Syrian warplanes' missiles hit Lebanon

Jets target rebels as UN warns of danger to nation's neighbours.

BEIRUT // Missiles fired by Syrian warplanes hit Lebanese territory yesterday in one of the most serious cross-border breaches since Syria's crisis began 18 months ago.

Security officials said four missiles fired by two jets, which were targeting rebel forces, hit a rugged and remote area on the edge of the Lebanese border town of Arsal.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

"I heard several explosions and saw four clouds of dust billowing from the area," said Nayeh Izzedine, a resident of Arsal.

The warplanes fired three missiles that fell on the outskirts of Arsal, about 500 metres from the border between the two countries, according to Lebanon's state-run National News Agency. But a Lebanese military spokesman said the Syrian jets were "bombing Syrian territory".

The incident came a day after an Iranian general said its elite special operations unit, the Quds Force, were in Syria and Lebanon, but only to provide "counsel".

Iran is an ally of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, but the nation's foreign ministry yesterday denied that it had any Revolutionary Guards in Syria.

"The comments citing Gen [Mohammed Ali] Jafari on the presence of Guards in Syria were selective and incorrect," a ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, told Iran's Al-Alam television.

"Iran does not have any military presence in the region, especially in Syria."

The Lebanese president, Michel Suleiman, demanded that Iran provide an "official explanation" about reports that its Revolutionary Guards had been sent to Lebanon, his office said yesterday.

Amid these developments, Robert Serry, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, yesterday told the UN Security Council that the crisis in Syria threatened regional stability.

"As conditions deteriorate, we see dangerous implications for Syria's neighbours," Mr Serry said.

In Geneva, an independent UN panel confirmed that an increasing number of "foreign elements", including militants, were now operating in Syria.

The investigative panel, appointed by the Human Rights Council, said that some of the forces were joining armed anti-government groups, while others were operating on their own.

"Such elements tend to push anti-government fighters toward more radical positions," the head of the panel, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, a Brazilian diplomat and professor, told delegates.

"Gross violations of human rights have grown in number, in pace and in scale," Mr Pinheiro said.

"Civilians, many of them children, are bearing the brunt of the spiralling violence."

Mr Pinheiro added that rights breaches were being committed by government forces and the pro-regime shabiha militia, as well as by rebels.

In Syria yesterday, the regime shelled Aleppo and Homs.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, also reported that the army had lobbed shells at the strongly rebel district of Al Hajar Al Aswad in the capital, Damascus, in preparation for storming it.

"According to initial reports, one person has been killed there, and several have been injured," it said.

The Observatory said that 148 people were killed across Syria on Sunday.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse