BEIRUT (Reuters) - Eight Lebanese soldiers were killed in clashes with Islamist militants that began on Saturday in and around the town of Arsal near the Syrian border and continued overnight, the army said on Sunday.
Earlier Lebanese security officials said that at least 11 militants and three civilians had been killed in the fighting and that around 16 members of the security forces had been taken hostage.
The militants included fighters from al Qaeda’s Syrian branch and from Islamic State, a radical Sunni group that has seized control of large areas of Syria and Iraq, Lebanese security officials said.
The fighting erupted on Saturday when militants seized a police station in Arsal after one of their leaders was arrested by Lebanese security forces at a checkpoint around Arsal.
The fighting has been some of the worst between the Lebanese army and militants since the conflict in Syria began over three years ago.
While Lebanon has regularly been hit by car bombs, suicide attacks, gun battles, kidnappings and rocket fire related to the Syria conflict, direct confrontations between the army and gunmen linked to the conflict are rare.
“The army continued its military operations throughout the night and until this morning in the area of Arsal and its environs as it pursued armed groups and clashed with them,” the army said in a statement.
“Eight martyrs from the army fell during these clashes and there were a number of wounded.”
A security official earlier said the 11 militants had been killed in the fighting as soldiers fought gun battles and shelled militant positions around Arsal.
Arsal is a Sunni Muslim town and its residents have tended to support the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Lebanon’s powerful Shi’ite militant movement Hezbollah has sent fighters to aid Assad.
Reporting by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Susan Fenton