BEIRUT: Lebanese Army chief Gen. Jean Kahwagi vowed Monday during a visit to south Lebanon that the military would swiftly respond to any Israeli aggression against the country and counter terrorist attempts to undermine security, particularly in the southern city of Sidon.
During a military tour in the southern town of Marjeyoun, Kahwagi praised the efforts of soldiers and officers in preserving security in border areas and defending against Israeli aggression.
“The Lebanese Army is keen on stability in the south and committed to security in cooperation with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon,” he said in comments carried by the National News Agency.
“But the Army also knows the Israeli enemy's intentions toward Lebanon, particularly in terms of attempts to take advantage of internal disputes to sow strife between the Lebanese,” Kahwagi added.
He said the Army was fully prepared to respond to any Israeli aggression.
“Every aggressive act will be met with a similar one and the response will be immediate,” he said.
“It is also the Army's duty to defend [Lebanon’s] sovereignty and the Lebanese,” he said, adding that the international community should support the military.
Last week, a Lebanese soldier shot and killed an Israeli soldier on the border of the two countries, in an act that both the Army and the UNIFIL have said was unsanctioned by the Lebanese military.
At UNIFIL’s headquarters in the southern town of Naqoura, Kahwagi met with the head of the peacekeeping force, Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra, and commended “UNIFIL's sacrifices, especially given that peacekeepers are spending the holidays away from their families.”
He said Lebanon valued the work of the U.N. peacekeepers and that the Lebanese respected “their role in strengthening stability on the border."
During his meeting with Serra, Kahwagi stressed on the importance of daily coordination between the Army and international troops in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, noting Israel’s repeated violations of the resolution among other international agreements.
Kahwagi told Serra that the Army was keen on the safety of the peacekeepers in south Lebanon.
The Army commander also visited Lebanese soldiers deployed in the coastal city of Sidon and the nearby Zahrani district and praised them on their role in preserving security in the area.
Last week, the Army said soldiers stationed in Sidon were targeted in two separate suicide attacks. Security sources, speaking to The Daily Star, have indicated that the assailants are affiliated with fugitive Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir.
In June, the military clashed with armed supporters of Assir after his gunmen ambushed a military checkpoint in the Sidon neighborhood of Abra, a short distance from where the preacher used to deliver fiery speeches against Hezbollah and Syria’s President Bashar Assad.
“[The military] will never abandon its role in Sidon but will boost its efforts in the city, surrounding areas and the coastal road to protect them from attempts to harm security and we will not allow the hands of terrorists to strike in Sidon,” Kahwagi said in the port city.
Describing Sidon as the city of “coexistence and brotherhood,” Kahwagi sought to reassure the city’s residents that the “Army will exert all efforts to protect them.”
Addressing soldiers, Kahwagi said Lebanon recognized their sacrifices.
He said the recent attacks in Sidon were “clear evidence that the Army will not remain silent against any attack on the military or any drop of our soldiers’ blood.”
He also noted that the country was gearing up for constitutional deadlines, referring to the presidential election in 2014.
“It is your responsibility to preserve stability at this difficult time as foreign and local sides try to destabilize the country and target you through suicide attacks in order to weaken the military and in turn harm Lebanon’s unity,” he said.
“But everyone will know that you are up to these challenging responsibilities,” Kahwagi added.