BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army and the Internal Security Forces boosted security measures over the weekend ahead of the holiday season, particularly around places of worship and shopping centers.
In a statement, the Army General Directorate said that military units expanded their deployment in the north, Mount Lebanon, Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and the south.
It added that it had taken a series of strict security measures in order to reassure citizens and protect them and their properties.
“The measures were focused on places of worship, main highways, shopping centers, state institutions and tourist areas,” the statement said.
The Army also asked citizens to respond well to such security measures, cooperate with the military and take initiative to contact it in case of suspicion.
Soldiers and tanks were deployed outside malls in Dbayyeh, Dora and Ashrafieh as well as in various churches in Beirut and its suburbs.
At ABC in Ashrafieh, the armored tank squatting at the intersection next to one of the main entrances of the shopping center seemed at odds with the lights and cheery holiday music, but friends Mirna Bultaji and Andrea Atallah said it made them feel safer.
“We are very happy [with the security measures],” Atallah said, adding that she was on a “mini” Christmas shopping trip. “We were just saying that they should do this all year, not just during the holidays.”
They confirmed they had noticed more soldiers and military vehicles at major intersections and churches, dismissing concerns the measures might exacerbate the heavy holiday traffic.
“The traffic will be there no matter what,” Bultaji said.
The mall had taken its own initiatives, requiring patrons to pass through metal detectors and subjecting them to more thorough bag checks than the usual casual wave of the smaller, hand-held detector.
There was no evidence of increased security, however, at the new Beirut City Centre mall, but that did not seem to worry Hisham Hajj.
“If someone wants to blow something up, he will do it anyway, regardless of security measures,” Hajj said. “The Boston Marathon had security, but anyone could decide to do something.”
Hajj said the heightened measures were mostly for show.
“It makes people feel better,” he said with a shrug.
Lebanon has been rocked by a series of bombs in the past couple of months, mostly targeting Hezbollah-strongholds in the Bekaa Valley and Beirut’s southern suburbs.
Some of the attacks, which were claimed by takfiri groups, were in retaliation for Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria.
The bombings include the Nov. 19 twin suicide attack against the Iranian Embassy and the most recent suicide attacks against the Lebanese Army in Sidon on Dec. 15.
Meanwhile, the acting head of the ISF, Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous, issued an order to all working units at the police force to remain on high alert starting Dec. 23 at 8 a.m.
He ordered police units to deploy in military and civilian clothing and erect checkpoints on main roads outside places of worship, nightclubs, restaurants and shopping centers.
He also asked the Information Branch and judicial police to increase their efforts and the operations room to be on alert to resolve emergencies.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel has warned that some clandestine groups would attempt to destabilize the country ahead of the trials of suspects in the 2005 Valentine’s Day assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon has scheduled Jan. 16, 2014 as the date for the start of trials of four Hezbollah members indicted in Hariri’s killing.
Judges at the STL also ordered Friday that a fifth Hezbollah suspect accused of taking part in the Hariri assassination be tried in absentia, since Hasan Merhi “has absconded or otherwise cannot be found.”
The minister additionally warned of the next six months, which will see critical issues including the upcoming presidential elections that could have repercussions on security and stability.
Meanwhile, the Internal Security Forces said Saturday that it increased the number of its personnel by 250 for traffic control officers, Beirut police, embassy security, and state institutions.