It appears that as one part of the Middle East quiets down, another starts up. The radical Islamic terror organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has gained a larger foothold in Lebanon as it faces off against the Lebanese army.
Hezbollah announced on Wednesday that for the moment, it has no plans to confront ISIS. Hezbollah leaders told the Lebanese Daily Star that it has only agreed to provide logistical support to the Lebanese army. However, should ISIS capture significant territory, Hezbollah leadership implied that it would enter the fray.
Since Monday, Lebanese forces and members of ISIS have been squaring off in northern Lebanon. According to reports, ISIS has captured the city of Arsal.
The Telegraph reported that the Syrian terror group set up check-points throughout the city, which has some 40,000 residents and approximately 120,000 Syrian refugees.
The conflict erupted when the Lebanese army arrested Abu Ahmad al-Jumaa, a former commander in the Free Syrian Army who later defected and declared allegiance with ISIS. Army officials said that Jumaa was in the process of planning and carrying out an attack against an army outpost.
ISIS insurgents announced that they would completely withdraw from Arsal if the government releases Jumaa. Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Slama refused their request, saying on Monday, “There is no political solution with extremist groups who are manipulating the Arab communities under religious obscurantism and strange titles, seeking to transfer their sick acts into Lebanon.”
“Today, the only solution is the withdrawal of the gunmen from Arsal and its surroundings,” he added.
After days of fighting, a ceasefire was negotiated between the Lebanese army and ISIS fighters in Arsal by Muslim clerics mediating for both sides. However, ISIS is reported to have kidnapped 30 Lebanese security officers.
For the time being, ISIS militants have withdrawn from the town to a nearby mountainous area between Arsal and the Syrian border.
Infamous for its violent and destructive rampage throughout Iraq and Syria, ISIS has been wreaking havoc in the Middle East and has put many countries, including Israel, the United States and even Iran on high alert.
In Iraq, ISIS has been persecuting the ancient Christian community throughout the country. In Mosul, a 1,800-year-old church was destroyed while hundreds of Christian families have fled the city after being threatened if they did not covert or pay a tax, they would be killed.
Israel has been keeping a close eye on ISIS activities as their jihadist threat looms closer to Israel’s borders. In Gaza, there is growing evidence that ISIS has established a foothold there despite denial by Hamas.
In June, an Israeli official told Channel 2 TV that while Israel is “not too troubled at this stage,” Israeli Military Intelligence has been closely monitoring what it believes to be a more than 10,000 man army over the last two years.