BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army is fighting an all-out war against terrorists seeking to ignite sectarian strife in the country, Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi said Wednesday, as Speaker Nabih Berri warned of attempts to plunge Lebanon into Iraqi-style sectarian violence.
Kahwagi described the security situation as “dangerous,” saying the military was pursuing terrorists involved in creating and detonating car bombs with the intention of sparking sectarian strife in the country.
Separately, a patrol from the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch seized 10 Grad rockets hidden in a truck in Ras Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley, the National News Agency reported Wednesday.
Delivering an address at an Army ceremony in Yarzeh, Kahwagi said: “Today I announce that the Army is waging an all-out war against terrorism. Our [military] units will not be deterred by criticisms, campaigns, rockets or explosive devices.
“They will continue the work they began when terrorism struck our families, our houses, our villages and our cities,” he added.
“We are faced today with one of the biggest challenges, which Arab and Western countries are already confronting on their own turfs, and that is terrorism, which strikes out wherever it has the chance,” Kahwagi said.
“For months the Army has been pursuing a terror cell that is booby-trapping cars and sending them to residential areas. The Ruwaiss car was one of them,” he added, referring to the deadly car bomb that struck the southern suburbs last week.
Citing Army intelligence information, Kahwagi said the car bombs prepared by this terror cell were not intended to target a specific area or a specific sect, but rather to inflame sectarian strife.
“This cell was preparing to ignite sectarian strife by targeting areas with diversified sectarian and political tendencies,” he said.
“Hence, the importance of combining everyone’s efforts to confront this danger at the political, judicial, security and media levels.”
Kahwagi’s warning comes as Lebanon is facing mounting security threats arising mainly from the repercussions of the more than 2-year-old civil war in Syria.
In addition to last week’s car bombing that ripped through the Hezbollah stronghold of Ruwaiss in Beirut’s southern suburbs, killing 30 people and wounding over 300, Lebanese authorities have arrested at least five people suspected of belonging to a car-bombing ring.
The Ruwaiss attack was the second bombing targeting the Hezbollah controlled southern suburbs in more than a month after a similar blast in the neighborhood of Bir al-Abed on July 9 wounded more than 50 people.
Last week, security forces seized a car loaded with 250 kilograms of explosives in the coastal town of Naameh, south of Beirut, in an ominous incident that raised the specter of car bombings that swept Beirut during the 1975-90 Civil War.
Sectarian violence linked to the Syrian conflict has spilled over into Lebanon, claiming many lives and making the country increasingly unstable.
Kahwagi said the military, undeterred by deep political divisions between the March 8 and March 14 parties, had uncovered many terror networks in Lebanon. “Our war on terrorism has nothing to do with any political differences or a media war Lebanon is currently witnessing.”
“The war on terrorism is an international, regional and Arab war. We are cooperating with friendly intelligence agencies to pursue these terror networks,” he said. “We are periodically coordinating with them at the highest levels for the safety of the Lebanese, Western and Arab nationals in Lebanon.”The Army chief said Lebanon was going through “fateful crises that threaten Lebanon’s unity and future.”
He added that troops deployed in south Lebanon were put on the highest level of alert and readiness “to confront the permanent danger posed by the Israeli enemy to our land, people and national unity.”
In line with Kahwagi’s instructions, Army troops beefed up security measures in various Lebanese areas, particularly Beirut and its suburbs.
“These measures included the setting up of observation points, inspection checkpoints and mounting armored and foot patrols in order to consolidate security and stability, reassure citizens and prevent any suspicious acts,” the Army said in a statement.
Berri also warned of attempts to drown Lebanon into Iraqi-style sectarian violence. “The Iraqization of Lebanon is extremely dangerous. Lebanon is not Iraq and this scheme [of Iraqization] will not pass in any form,” Berri said during his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his residence in Ain al-Tineh.
However, the speaker said the deteriorating security situation demanded vigilance on the part of all people, and an end to the paralysis gripping Parliament and other state institutions.
“The dangerous security situation we are witnessing requires us to be more alert and requires putting an end to the obstruction of state institutions,” Berri said during the meeting.
He was referring to the failure to form a new Cabinet and a repeated boycott of Parliament sessions by the March 14 coalition and MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary bloc in a dispute over the constitutionality of the sessions under a caretaker government.
“The current situation under a resigned Cabinet requires the doubling and boosting of Parliament’s work rather than disrupting it,” he said.
He also urged the rival political factions to be vigilant and confront attempts aimed at creating tension and detonating the fragile security situation.
Parliament failed to convene Tuesday for a fourth time in just over a month due to lack of a quorum, prompting Berri to postpone the session to Sept. 23.
Meanwhile, south Lebanon’s Central Security Council agreed on a series of measures to prevent car bombings and boost security in Sidon and other southern areas.
Following a meeting attended by chiefs of security agencies and the south’s Prosecutor, Samih Hajj, at the Sidon government serail, the participants reminded the public of the council’s previous decisions which banned all kinds of demonstrations and protests and the blocking of main roads.
“The participants decided to increase security patrols within Sidon and its neighborhoods, in addition to reactivating preventive surveillance to uncover and prevent any bombings, particularly car bombs,” according to a statement issued after the meeting.