Lebanese forces fired on Syrian aircraft that violated the country's airspace today, the first time they have done so since Syria's uprising broke out three years ago, said security officials. The move suggests Beirut is trying to enforce greater respect for its borders in the hopes of slowing the expansion of the conflict into Lebanon, where it has exacerbated sectarian tensions and prompted shadowy groups to conduct attacks that have killed dozens this year. Lebanese officials said the military fired anti-aircraft guns at two Syrian helicopters after they fired four projectiles in a mountainous, barren area close to the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal. The move comes in the wake of Saudi Arabia's announcement yesterday that it was giving Lebanon $3 billion to shore up its army.
Syrian aircraft have frequently conducted strikes near the frontier and sometimes fire has hit Lebanon. Beirut has protested but not shot at them. A Lebanese military official could not confirm the report but said the army has orders to shoot anything—planes, tanks, or troops—that has violated Lebanese territory. Other officials said the Syrians were chasing rebels who were trying to sneak into the country. Also today, a UN official said at least 15 people have died of hunger-related illnesses in a besieged area of Damascus over the past four months. The UN hasn't been able to ship food into the area since September, says a rep. "If this situation is not addressed urgently, it may be too late to save the lives of thousands of people, including children." (Read more Syria stories.)