Middle East Peace and security Initiative Nonresident Senior Fellow Nicholas Blanford writes for NOW on the possibility of ISIS gaining ground in the Lebanese defended town of Arsal:

On 2 August last year, a combined force of some 700 militants, mainly drawn from Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, stormed into the eastern Bekaa town of Arsal, overrunning army positions and triggering a bitter battle lasting several days. Eventually the militants retreated, beaten back by the Rangers and Air Assault regiments and units of the 5th Intervention Brigade. But they took with them a large amount of captured weapons and ammunition as well as 36 soldiers and police, of whom 25 still remain hostage.

The Lebanese Army has since imposed a ring of steel around Arsal with fortified outposts, strengthened checkpoints and hilltop observation towers. But according to residents in Arsal, the militants have slipped back in and are now the dominant influence in the town.

“Daesh [ISIS] and Jabhat al-Nusra are all over Arsal and treating the people very badly,” says one resident, an active supporter of Syrian rebel groups who refused to be identified because of the security situation in the town. He added that there are tensions between ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra and they have clashed in areas outside Arsal.

Sources close to the army say that soldiers manning checkpoints on the roads and tracks that radiate out from Arsal are strict in allowing or denying access. But if no weapons are found in a vehicle and the occupants have valid identification there is little reason to deny them passage even if in fact they are Islamist militants.

Read the full article here.

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