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8 Lebanese soldiers killed in clash with Islamists near Syria

Violence from the Syrian war, now approaching its fourth year, has migrated into neighboring Lebanon

The bodies of three more Lebanese soldiers were discovered Saturday in a battlefield near the Syrian border, bringing to eight the number killed in the latest clashes with Syrian Islamist rebels, authorities said.

The intense gun battles have again dramatized how violence from the Syrian civil war, now approaching its fourth year, has migrated into neighboring Lebanon.

The remains of the three soldiers were found on the outskirts of the town of Ras Baalbek, in the northeastern Bekaa Valley, where battles raged Friday between Lebanese government forces and militants who roam the rugged area along the Syrian frontier.

The army said that its forces had repelled a militant attack on an outpost during 16 hours of gun battles. The army reportedly deployed tanks and air power.

On Friday, the army reported five dead and almost two dozen wounded. The official death toll increased to eight Saturday.

Varying estimates were reported for the number of militants killed in the fighting.

The Syrian-Lebanese border area is home to myriad Syrian rebel factions, including Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front and Islamic State, an Al Qaeda breakaway group.

Lebanese soldiers were reported to be combing the area Saturday as Lebanese Defense Minister Samir Moqbel declared in a statement that Lebanon would be a “graveyard” for attackers.

Previous clashes have broken out between Lebanese army forces and Syrian rebels on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek, an isolated, largely Christian town near the Syrian border. Many residents worry about militant infiltration from nearby Syria.

The area is near the Lebanese town of Arsal, a militant stronghold and rear base for Syrian rebels. In August, gunmen seized the town and took more than two dozen Lebanese soldiers and police officers hostage. The militants have since executed some of the hostages but most remain captive, authorities say.

The Syrian rebels based along the border area with Lebanon are fighting to oust the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Lebanese government is officially neutral in the war raging next door but the Lebanese population is divided about the conflict.

More than 1 million Syrian refugees have entered Lebanon, taxing resources and in some cases creating social tension.

Twitter: @mcdneville

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