BEIRUT: A political decision is needed to safeguard Beirut’s international airport in light of the recent abduction of two Turkish pilots on the airport road, MP Mohammad Qabbani, the head of Parliament's public works and transport committee, said Tuesday.
Qabbani, who attended a meeting with caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and airport security personnel at the Rafik Hariri International Airport, also said security shortcomings at the port needed to be addressed.
“During the meeting, we agreed that there was a need for a political decision to protect the airport and considers it a red line for all the political parties and citizens,” Qabbani told reporters at a news conference.
“Messing with the security of the airport is a matter that we all reject,” he added.
Qabbani said the meeting touched on two issues: security at the airport and surrounding areas in light of Friday’s abduction of two Turkish Airlines pilots.
Those at the meeting spoke on measures that could provide the airport with better protection, its perimeter including checkpoints, as well as increasing the number of security personnel and the reopening of another airport.
“First, we need fixed checkpoints at the five or six roads that lead to the airport and regular patrolling by security forces in the surrounding neighborhoods,” Qabbani, a Future Movement MP, said.
Qabbani said Charbel informed officials at the meeting that there was a lack of security personnel and that there was a need for more security forces to be deployed at the airport.
“We need a second airport and a third if possible not only to address security issues ... but Lebanon requires more than one for future purposes,” he said, referring to the Qleiat airport in the north.
The Turkish pilots were kidnapped at the Cocodi Bridge, less than a kilometer from Beirut’s airport.
Qabbani noted that security forces, and not airport personnel, were responsible for safeguarding the road from the aviation center.
The lawmaker also said that the public prosecution is investigating the possibility of an internal breach that could have led to the abduction.
A group calling itself Zuwwar al-Imam Ali al-Reda claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, demanding in exchange the release of nine Lebanese hostages who have been held in Syria since May of last year.
The Information Branch of Lebanon’s police is interrogating Mohammed Saleh, a relative of one of the kidnapped in Syria as part of the investigation.
Police are also looking for Ali Saleh, son of Jamil Saleh – one of the nine hostages in Syria - who is suspected of being behind the operation.
Qabbani said the parliamentary committee would review two security plans for the airport next week after Airport Security submits a report about the security conditions there.