A Jordanian soldier was killed in clashes with armed militants trying to cross the border into Syria on Monday and sectarian clashes overnight in Lebanon left eight dead as Syria’s civil war spilled into neighboring countries.
Jordanian Information Minister Sameeh Maaytah said the soldier was the first member of the country’s military to be killed in violence related to Syria's civil war. He died in clashes with militants trying to illegally enter Syria to join rebels fighting President Bashar Assad’s regime. Maaytah did not say whether the militants were Jordanians or foreign fighters trying to jump into the fray in the neighboring country.
A statement by the Jordanian military said the soldier was killed in a shootout with a group of eight suspected militants armed with pistols and machineguns. Jordanian troops detained the suspected gunmen and authorities are questioning them, the statement said.
A number of foreign Islamists have been fighting in Syria alongside the rebels. Jordan’s banned Salafi movement - which promotes an ultraconservative brand of Islam - has sent several fighters to Syria in past months and Jordanian border patrols have caught some of them recently.
On Sunday, Petra news agency reported that Jordan has foiled a “terrorist plot” and arrested 11 al-Qaeda suspects who planned to carry out suicide attacks against shopping malls and diplomats.
Maaytah told a news conference that the 11 suspects had entered Jordan from neighboring Syria.
“The prisoners came across the border from Syria and were caught red-handed,” he said, adding that authorities seized weapons and maps showing the locations of the sites they planned to attack.
In Lebanon, fresh sectarian violence erupted, stoking fears about the stability of the country after a top security official was killed in a car bombing blamed on neighboring Syria.
The army said it was determined to restore order, with the northern port of Tripoli also shaken by fighting between partisans and Assad opponents that killed five people.
In the afternoon, personnel carriers entered the capital’s Sunni district of Tariq Jdideh, which had been a hotspot all day, and soldiers took up position on streets leading into it to keep them open, a military spokesman said.
Before dawn, six people were wounded when the army made a pre-dawn sweep of Tariq Jdideh in pursuit of armed men, and automatic weapons and anti-tank rocket fire could be heard.
Later, soldiers responded after being fired on as they tried to clear a road into the district, a stronghold of opposition leader Saad Hariri whose partisans had blocked it despite calls by the former premier to stay off the streets.
The army spokesman said a 20-year-old Palestinian resident, Ahmad Quaider, was killed in the shooting, but the circumstances were unclear.
Later on Monday, Al Arabiya correspondent said that death toll in Tripoli increased to include eight people killed due to the Syrian conflict-linked clashes.
In Tripoli, a Sunni bastion where opposition to Assad is strong, a woman and four youths died during clashes between Sunnis and Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which the Syrian president belongs, security sources said.
A four-year-old girl was wounded, as were three soldiers hit as troops tried to restore calm.
Clashes have erupted regularly in Tripoli as tensions spill over the border from Syria, where a 19-month-old anti-regime revolt has left more than 34,000 people dead.
Lebanon has been on edge since Friday, when police intelligence chief General Wissam al-Hassan died in the Beirut bombing.
Al-Hassan was a Sunni who challenged Syria and its powerful Lebanese ally, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. The uprising in Syria is dominated by the Sunni majority fighting President Assad, who like many in his regime is a member of the Alawite sect. Lebanon and Syria share similar sectarian divides that have fed tensions in both countries.
Most of Lebanon’s Sunnis have backed Syria’s mainly Sunni rebels, while Lebanese Shiites tend to back Assad.
The assassination has imperiled Lebanon’s fragile political balance. Many politicians blamed Damascus for the killing and angry protesters tried to storm the government palace after al-Hassan’s funeral on Sunday, venting their rage at leaders they consider puppets of a murderous Syrian regime. But were pushed back by troops who opened fire in the air and lobbed volleys of tear gas.
The car bombing in Beirut sparked immediate calls for Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose cabinet is dominated by Damascus ally Hezbollah, to resign.