Security forces and civilians inspect the scene of a bus crash that killed and wounded several people in the town of Kahaleh, 10 kilometres east of Beirut yesterday, that was carrying Syrian refugees upon their arrival from Syria. Image Credit: AFP

Beirut: Syria has warned it may strike at rebels hiding in neighbouring Lebanon if the Lebanese army does not act, as its patience “is not unlimited”, the state news agency Sana said on Friday.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry told its Lebanese counterpart late on Thursday that a “large number” of militants had crossed Lebanon’s northern border into the Syrian town of Tel Kalakh over the past two days, Sana said.

“Syria expects the Lebanese side to prevent these armed terrorist groups from using the borders as a crossing point, because they target Syrian people and are violating Syrian sovereignty,” the diplomatic cable said.

It said Syria’s “patience is not unlimited”, even though “Syrian forces have so far exercised restraint from striking at armed gangs inside Lebanese territory.”

Fighting near the border resulted in a large number of casualties, Sana said, before the gunmen retreated into Lebanon.

Lebanon has a policy of “dissociation” from the two-year-old civil war in Syria but officials say they feel their country is increasingly at risk of being dragged into a conflict that the United Nations says has killed 70,000 Syrians.

More than one million Syrians are believed to have taken shelter in Lebanon. They live among a nation of 4 million, which fought its own devastating 1975-1990 civil war and whose own sectarian tensions between Christians, Sunni and Shiites have been heightened by the fighting in Syria.

Tensions between Lebanese groups that support the Syrian opposition and those that support Syrian President Bashar Al Assad have been intensifying and have sometimes turned violent.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council underscored its grave concern Thursday at the arms trafficking and repeated weapons fire across the Lebanon-Syria border.

The council appealed to all Lebanese to preserve national unity in the face of attempts to undermine the country’s stability and refrain from any involvement in the conflict.

In a press statement after closed-door briefings by the UN special coordinator for Lebanon and a senior UN peacekeeping official, the council expressed grave concern at the impact of the growing flow of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria.

The council expressed grave concern at repeated incidents of cross-border fire which has killed and injured Lebanese civilians, as well as incursions, abductions and arms trafficking across the border.

The council expressed deep concern “at the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon’s stability” and called on all parties to respect Lebanon’s “policy of disassociation and to refrain from any involvement in the Syrian crisis.”

Council members said they are encouraged by the calm that continues to prevail across the Blue Line, the UN-drawn boundary between Lebanon and Israel. They urged the parties “to make every effort to ensure that the cessation of hostilities is sustained.”