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Beirut (AFP) June 07, 2013
The Lebanese army warned on Friday that a plot was afoot to embroil the country in the 26-month conflict in neighbouring Syria, as deadly clashes between Damascus supporters and opponents inside Lebanon multiply.
"The army command... calls on citizens to be wary of plots aimed at taking Lebanon backwards and dragging it into an absurd war," a statement said, adding that it would give an "armed response to any armed action".
"The army command has been trying for several months to work firmly, determinedly and patiently to prevent Lebanon being turned into a battlefield for regional conflicts and to prevent any spillover of the events in Syria," it said.
"But in recent days, some groups have seemed determined to stoke security tensions... against the backdrop of the political divisions in Lebanon over military developments in Syria."
It was the strongest statement from the Lebanese army since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule erupted in March 2011.
It came after the public intervention of Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement alongside Assad's troops in the battle for the border town of Qusayr which culminated in its recapture on Wednesday and deepened political divisions.
Sunni communities in Lebanon have been sending arms and fighters to the mainly Sunni rebels inside Syria.
One person was killed and seven wounded in a clash in the heart of Lebanon's second-largest city Tripoli on Thursday in the latest in a spate of deadly violence between Lebanese supporters and opponents of the Damascus regime.
Syria army prepares for Aleppo battle: security source
The preparations came five days after the army and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah seized Qusayr in centre-west Syria, a year after the strategic region had fallen into rebel hands.
"It is likely the battle for Aleppo will start in the coming hours or days, and its aim is to reclaim the towns and villages (under rebel control) in the province," the source said on condition of anonymity.
"The Syrian Arab army is ready to carry out its mission in this province," the source said, without giving further details.
Analysts say its success in Qusayr has given the army the confidence to try to suppress the insurgency elsewhere in the strife-torn country.
Pro-regime daily Al-Watan said Sunday the army has "started to deploy at a large scale in Aleppo province, in preparation for a battle that will be fought in the city and its outskirts".
Rebels in July 2012 launched a massive assault on Aleppo, once Syria's commercial hub. The city has suffered daily regime bombardment and clashes pitting insurgents against troops.
Al-Watan also said "the Syrian army will take advantage of its experience in Qusayr and Eastern Ghouta (near Damascus) to advance in the (central) province of Hama and Homs" nearby.
"The consequences of the battle for Qusayr will... map out the contours of Syria's political future," the daily added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Friday that the regime was deploying "thousands of soldiers" in the Aleppo region, who aimed to recapture rebel positions and to cut off their weapons supply routes from Turkey.
The Britain-based monitoring group also said Hezbollah had sent "dozens of its cadres to train hundreds of Syrian Shiites in combat".
President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite community is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while the majority of rebels are Sunnis.
Activists in Homs, where an army siege of rebel-held areas entered its second year on Sunday, said the city may be next in line for army operations.
"Qusayr was the regime's main focus in the province. Now, we fear they may shift their attention to Homs city," said Yazan, a Homs-based activist who spoke to AFP via the Internet.
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