BEIRUT: Opposition politicians have met with security officials to discuss ways of tackling the security situation in the Beirut southern suburb, commonly known as Dahiyeh, the head of Internal Security Forces (ISF) confirmed on Monday. ISF chief General Ashraf Rifi told The Daily Star he met with Amal Movement and Hizbullah representatives over the weekend, who asked for greater assistance in law and order enforcement.
Rifi said delegates had “asked [the ISF] to reinforce our presence in Dahiyeh. Our presence there is now more efficient and more enforcing.”
He cited the recent incidents such as that which occurred last month in Ain al-Remmaneh as partial motivation for the move.
In addition, the recent formation of a new national unity cabinet had given security forces multilateral political support, Rifi said.
“We are now in a new political situation.”
Media reports on Monday suggested that the politicians had met with security counterparts due to deteriorating stability in Dahiyeh.
The daily Al-Hayat reported that Hizbullah representatives had informed both Rifi and Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud that the party was ready to coordinate with the ISF in order to apprehend suspected criminals in Dahiyeh.
A senior Hizbullah source said that the presence of centrally controlled security forces was a necessity to help deal with the southern suburbs’ crime and infrastructure problems.
“We have always called on the security forces to come and help and organize [in Dahiyeh] whether for traffic control or other reasons,” said the source, adding that “all people will help” police in keeping order.
Baroud, during meeting of the Internal Security Central Council on Friday, stressed that security forces have full access to all regions of Lebanon. He added that the ISF and LAF had unequivocal political support.
“We have full trust in the security forces and we will provide them with complete political support since they represent the authority of the state,” he said.
“The full cooperation with the southern suburb of Beirut helps the state in its tasks as we seek to boost the role of the state authorities in all regions to serve the interest of any regions’ residents rather than otherwise,” Baroud added.
Quoting security sources, Al-Hayat reported that police stations in Dahiyeh had already been given patrol cars and an additional 250 officers to deal with law and order offences.
“There is no differentiation when it comes to regions,” the source was quoted as saying. “Security personnel are doing their jobs perfectly and patrols are being deployed constantly.”
The source added that 1,250 motorbikes had been stopped in the capital, reportedly “without any problems.”
A ban on the use of motorbikes at night was implemented by the Interior Ministry last month following the clash in Ain al-Remmaneh which killed one man and seriously injured four others.
The assailants were reported to have been riding motorbikes.
“When security is regulated in Dahiyeh, it will reflect on various Lebanese regions because thieves who usually flee to Dahiyeh will know that it is no longer a refuge,” the source continued. “This will lead to greater security.”
Rifi said that the move represented a drive to control crime in Dahiyeh, an area in which law and order has traditionally been overseen by Hizbullah partisans.
“We want to normalize the situation [in Dahiyeh] we had a presence there before but now we have increased our numbers and our capability is greater,” he said.
Timur Goksel, a former adviser to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and political science lecturer at American University of Beirut, said the decision to allow ISF officers into the southern suburbs could prove beneficial to all parties.
“It has happened before but I would like to see what comes of it,” he said. “Hizbullah is also aware that there is a level of complaint in the Dahiyeh that there is a law and order problem. It’s also to [Hizbullah’s] advantage to get the police in.”
The Hizbullah source said that the crowded geography of south Beirut presented a particular challenge to law enforcement programs.
“Everyone knows that Dahiyeh is something of a demographic explosion. You have many people living in Dahiyeh and the infrastructure can’t take people coming and going to work. This has always been the responsibility of government,” the source said.
“We have always urged the government to facilitate things and this will be great if it is going to be done. It is a necessity for all agencies to come [to Dahiyeh],” the source added.
Sahar Atrache, a Beirut-based security analyst with the International Crisis Group, welcomed the move as a product of Lebanon’s fragile political consensus.
“This shows that in Dahiyeh, partisans are willing to let the state forces interfere more now than before,” she said.
“Now all the parties are trying to normalize the situation,” Atrache said and added that the coordination between Hizbullah, Amal and ISF officers would last even if there was a sharp deterioration in the security situation.
“The cooperation with security sources wouldn’t go if we return to a crisis,” she said.
Figures confirmed by Rifi suggest that the new security drive may be producing short-term results.
In the first two weeks of October, security forces in Lebanon registered 75 car thefts and 35 robberies compared with 52 and 25 in November respectively. In October there were 28 stolen cars retrieved by security forces, compared with 38 in November. There were two murders in each period. – Additional reporting by Carol Rizk
Zahle residents call for order, mayor fears town may resort to vigilantism
BEIRUT: Zahle residents called Monday on security forces to increase efforts to prevent thefts and aggressions against citizens’ lives and property in the region.
Residents of the Bekaa Valley town rallied in front of the city’s Serail building along with “Zahle in the Heart” parliamentary bloc MPs Toni Abou Khater, Elie Marouni, Shant Gengenian and Joseph Maalouf to condemn the town’s shaky security situation.
“We hope that steps discussed with Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud would put an end to such violations which are unmotivated by sectarian or political reasons,” Maalouf said, while stressing the need to refrain from granting assailants any “political cover up.”
Maalouf voiced hope that the re-deployment of security forces across the country, in accordance with the Interior Ministry’s new plan to enforce security, would not lead to a reduction in the level of forces present in the Zahle region.
Zahle Mayor Assad Zogheib condemned the repeated robbery incidents which have recently plagued the town, emphasizing the need to stop such violations and subject the assailants to severe punishment.
“It is not possible to remain silent about such incidents, particularly since the assailants and their protectors are known by security forces; thus it is impossible for gangs to be stronger than the state,” Zogheib said.
Zogheib also feared that the state’s inability to protect its citizens would encourage residents to undertake autonomous security measures leading to serious complications, which all parties reject. – The Daily Star