BEIRUT: The head of Parliament’s Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee said Tuesday that a political decision was needed to maintain security at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport.
Future Movement MP Mohammad Qabbani said that he and caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel had highlighted during the committee meeting the need for a political decision to be reached to ensure safety at the airport. They also stressed that all political factions and individuals should be made to understand that undermining airport security amounted to crossing a red line.
Qabbani spoke to reporters after holding two meetings at the airport, one with members of Airport Security, attended by its head, Gen. Jean Talozian and Charbel, and another with members of Civil Aviation, with Daniel Haiby, its director-general, also present.
Qabbani was accompanied by some committee members; however Hezbollah MPs and caretaker Transport and Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi were not present.
The meetings came days after unidentified gunmen kidnapped two Turkish pilots near the airport. A group, identifying themselves as Zuwwar al-Imam Ali al-Reda, claimed responsibility for the operation and said the captives would be released in exchange for the Lebanese hostages being held by Syrian rebels since May of last year.
Qabbani said it was unacceptable to have areas out of the state’s control, whether in and around the airport or any other important facility.
“I call on the president, caretaker prime minister, ... caretaker interior minister, caretaker justice minister and the judiciary ... to assume their responsibilities and not be afraid. Whoever is afraid, let him resign,” Qabbani said.
Rafik Hariri International Airport, the only functioning airport in Lebanon, lies in the southern suburbs of Beirut, controlled by Hezbollah and Amal. Blocking of the road which leads to the airport by protesters is an almost regular occurrence.
Qabbani also said that those calling to block the airport road should be arrested: “I call on the executive branch [of the government] to arrest anyone calling to block the airport road, whether male or female, from any family or party.”
The families of the nine hostages threatened to block the airport road Sunday to protest the arrest of a relative, Mohammad Saleh, over suspicions of his involvement in kidnapping of the Turkish pilots.
Qabbani said that Talozian had told the committee that he was able to maintain security within the airport, but not along the roads surrounding the complex.
“We highlighted the need for fixed Army checkpoints on the five or six exits on the airport [road]. The caretaker interior minister said that patrols were more important than fixed posts,” he said.
Charbel, Qabbani said, complained that the ISF suffered from a human resources shortage.
“He always repeats that 2,000 [ISF] personnel are tasked with providing unnecessary protection for politicians, judges and military personnel,” he said.
Each MP has four state security personnel as bodyguards. Many, however, have extra ISF members that they say they need because they face serious security threats.
Charbel formed a committee to specify the MPs who face serious threats and are in real need of extra ISF support. Officers assigned to MPs not in need of extra security would be reassigned.
Qabbani said the delegation stressed to Charbel the need to open the Qleiaat airport in north Lebanon.
“We want a second or a third airport, not only for security reasons. A few years ago, the Cabinet decided that the Qleiaat airport would be used for civil purposes. ... Lebanon is in need of several airports for the future,” he said. “It is unacceptable to say ‘We want an airport in Qleiaat to be under the dominance of Sunnis just like the airport in Beirut is under the dominance of Shiites.’ This is a national airport under the dominance of Lebanon’s government that should be protected.”
Qabbani said that a plan to preserve the security of Civil Aviation had already been formulated, but needed to be updated.
“We are waiting to receive the plan early next week ... to be discussed in a session of Parliament’s Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee,” he said.
Qabbani said he also asked Haiby to provide the delegation with a report on the needs of the airport that require legal measures to be passed.