GAZIANTEP, Turkey — A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden car Saturday evening at a military checkpoint on the outskirts of Arsal, Lebanon, killing at least three Lebanese soldiers in what appears to be spillover violence from the conflict in neighboring Syria.
Arsal, a Sunni Muslim enclave in a predominantly Shiite Muslim region of northern Lebanon, has been the focal point of sectarian strife as its population has swelled with Syrian refugees.
Hours after the bombing, soldiers fatally shot a woman and child at another checkpoint in Arsal when the driver of a truck in which they were riding did not heed orders to stop, state media reported. No other details of the incident were immediately available.
Last week, Arsal was briefly under blockade by a neighboring Shiite town, which sparked protests and roadblocks throughout the country. The rise in tension came after Syrian troops backed by Hezbollah militiamen seized control of Yabroud, a Syrian town near the Lebanese border that had been under the control of opponents to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The Free Sunnis of Baalbek Batallion claimed responsibility for Saturday’s bombing. The group first became known in December when it took responsibility for the assassination of a senior commander of the Hezbollah militant group outside his home.
As Hezbollah’s support of Assad and his forces has continued, so have attacks in Lebanon targeting Hezbollah and Shiite districts. Twin bombings in Beirut, the Lebanese capital, struck the Iranian Embassy in November, leaving about two dozen dead. Iran is a supporter of Assad.
And in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, clashes have broken out between Sunnis favoring the Syrian opposition and members of Assad’s Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot, who support the Syrian government.
On Saturday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech in which he defended his group’s presence in Syria.
If the opposition wins in Syria, he said, “then we will all be canceled, and not just Hezbollah.... The problem in Lebanon is that Hezbollah was late in going into Syria and the days have proved the rectitude of our choices.”