Hezbollah loses 8 fighters in battles with al-Qaida-linked group on Lebanon-Syria border

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BEIRUT — Al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate has attacked positions manned by Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah along the Syrian border, killing eight of its fighters, officials and activists said Monday.

An official close to Hezbollah declined to say how many fighters were killed in Sunday's battles with the Nusra Front, but in mosques across Lebanon's eastern Bekaa valley funerals were announced for eight Hezbollah fighters.

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the Nusra Front attacked several Hezbollah positions on the Lebanese and Syrian side of the border simultaneously. Abdurrahman said four Hezbollah fighters were killed on the Syrian side of the border.

Hezbollah has sent fighters to Syria to back President Bashar Assad's forces against rebels trying to remove him from power. The armed intervention in Syria earned the Shiite group the enmity of Syria's predominantly Sunni rebels. Assad is a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Over the past year, Syrian troops and Hezbollah fighters have captured most of the towns and villages in Syria's mountainous Qalamoun region along the Lebanon border, depriving the rebels of residential areas where they can stay during the winter.

Lebanese officials have warned that they expect Syrian rebels to try to capture areas on the Lebanese side of the border before the snow hits.

The fighting on Sunday lasted for several hours. The official said Hezbollah's response to the attack was "huge, strong and fast." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to reporters.

The official said the attackers captured an observation post known as Ein el-Saa before Hezbollah took it back about two hours later.

"This post was turned into their graveyard," the official close to Hezbollah said by telephone.

It appeared that Hezbollah fighters were taken by surprise, as Shiites in Lebanon marked the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Shortly after the battles began, Hezbollah rushed reinforcements to the rugged mountainous region.

Abdurrahman of the Observatory said there were casualties among the Nusra fighters, but he could not provide an exact figure. The Britain-based Observatory gathers its information from a network of activists inside Syria.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV aired footage from Ein al-Saa post showing blood stains as well as medication that the Nusra Front fighters had left behind.

It was the most serious incursion into Lebanon since Aug. 2, when Syrian rebels briefly captured the Lebanese border town of Arsal as well as 20 soldiers and policemen. Two of the soldiers were later beheaded by the Islamic State extremist group. The third was shot dead by the Nusra Front.

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