Middle East

Lebanon: Arsal border town rocked by bomb

Map of Lebanon showing location of Arsal

At least six people are reported to have been killed in a bomb attack in a town near Lebanon's border with Syria.

A bomb hidden inside a motorcycle exploded in front of the offices of a Muslim scholars committee in Arsal, the official National News Agency said.

The Sunni clerics are believed to have been in trying to negotiate the release of Lebanese security personnel held by jihadist militants based in Syria.

Arsal was the scene of fierce fighting between the two sides last year.

The Sunni town, which hosts many Syrian refugees, is sandwiched between Syrian government-held territory and predominantly Shia Lebanese areas sympathetic to it.

Meeting targeted

The NNA reported that the head of the Qalamoun Clerics Association, Sheikh Othman Mansour, was among those people killed by Thursday's blast in Arsal.

The agency said the bomb was placed on a motorcycle that blew up outside the association's office.

But a security source told the AFP news agency that the bomber had entered the offices during a meeting of the clerics and detonated an explosive belt.

"The explosion definitely targeted this meeting... where usually no less than 15 people are gathered," Arsal resident Abu Ibrahim told AFP.

The scholars were involved in trying to negotiate the release of more than two dozen members of the Lebanese security forces who were seized by al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra Front, and Islamic State militants during a major attack on Arsal in August 2014.

The jihadist groups have demanded that the Lebanese authorities free Islamist prisoners in exchange, and have killed four of the captives in an attempt to force them to act.

The conflict in Syria has heightened sectarian tensions in Lebanon, with violence regularly spilling over its border and more than a million refugees arriving.