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Drug clan attacks Lebanese troops

GUNMEN ambushed Lebanese troops in the east of the country yesterday, spraying their military vehicle with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, a senior military official said.

Four soldiers were killed and an officer was wounded in the attack.

The ambush on a major road near the town of Rayak comes after a recent push by Lebanese troops to crack down on the drug trade in the Bekaa Valley.

The official said the gunmen, traveling in three four-wheel drive vehicles, sped away after the attack.

"The army is chasing the gunmen and calls on citizens not to shelter them," an official said.

The northern part of the Bekaa has Hezbollah strongholds but it is also a region where Shiite clans involved in the drug trade have long held sway.

Authorities occasionally crack down on drug dealers in the Bekaa, including a recently launched military campaign targeting members of one particularly powerful clan.

Witnesses in the city of Baalbek said gunmen, believed to be members of the Jaafar clan, unleashed volleys of celebratory gunfire shortly after news of the military casualties were reported. Two members of the clan had been killed last month by the army.

President Michel Suleiman urged the military "not to be lenient with the attacking criminals in order to defend the dignity of the army and the country and protect national peace."

Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said the attack would not deter the army from pursuing its campaign against drugs.

The violence comes as Lebanon gears up for June parliamentary elections pitting Hezbollah and its allies.


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