BEIRUT: Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi promised Monday that the military would swiftly respond to any Israeli attack and terrorist attempts to undermine security in the southern city of Sidon.
“The Army is fully prepared to respond to any Israeli aggression and will not concede to any threat or remain silent in the event that it is targeted. Every aggressive act will be met with a similar one and the response will be immediate,” Kahwagi said.
He also praised the efforts of soldiers and officers in preserving security along the border areas and defending them against Israeli aggression.
“The Lebanese Army is eager to preserve stability in the south and committed to maintaining its security in cooperation with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon,” Kahwagi added.
“But it [the Army] is also aware of the Israeli enemy’s intentions toward Lebanon, particularly its attempts to take advantage of internal disputes to foment strife among the Lebanese,” Kahwagi added.
His remarks came during a tour of Army units in the southern district of Marjayoun and Sidon. Kahwagi also visited UNIFIL headquarters in the southern border village of Naqoura.
He said the Army’s strength stemmed from Lebanon’s right to national sovereignty, whether in land, air or sea, and from its obligation to defend its sovereignty, with support from the people and the international community.
At UNIFIL’s headquarters in Naqoura, Kahwagi met Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra, the head of the peacekeeping force, along with senior UNIFIL officers.
During his meeting with Serra, Kahwagi stressed the importance of daily coordination and joint work between the Army and the international troops in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701.
He said Israel was repeatedly violating the resolution among other international laws, while Lebanon was respecting its international commitments.
Kahwagi told Serra that the Army was eager to protect peacekeepers in south Lebanon just as much as its Lebanese soldiers.
“General Kahwagi’s visit to UNIFIL today is a strong reaffirmation of the trust and friendship that define our cooperation at every level and in all our work together in pursuance of our mandate under Resolution 1701. Our strategic partnership with the Lebanese Armed Forces remains one of the main pillars for the success of our mission,” Serra said after the visit.
Kahwagi also visited Lebanese soldiers deployed in the coastal city of Sidon and the nearby Zahrani district and praised their role in preserving security in the area.
“Everybody knows the enormous sacrifices you are making and what happened in Al-Awali, Abra and Majdalyoun is a clear indicator that we will not remain silent if the Army is targeted,” the Army commander said, addressing the soldiers.
Last week, Army checkpoints in Al-Awali in Sidon and the city’s suburb of Majdalyoun were targeted in two separate suicide attacks, killing an Army first sergeant and wounding three soldiers. The assailants were affiliated with fugitive Salafist Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir.
In June, the military clashed with armed supporters of Assir after his gunmen ambushed a military checkpoint in the Sidon suburb of Abra.
At least 18 Army soldiers and dozens of Assir’s supporters were killed in the confrontation.
“You are shouldering the great mission of preserving the stability of Lebanon during a difficult phase in which internal and external sides are trying to engage in a destabilization campaign by targeting you with suicide and other security attacks to weaken the Army, in order to undermine the unity of Lebanon,” Kahwagi said. “But everybody will figure out that you are up to the responsibility and the challenges.”
Kahwagi described Sidon as the city of coexistence and assured residents that the Army would double its efforts in the city and its surrounding areas, as well as the coastal road to protect them from security incidents and “will not allow the hands of terrorists to strike in Sidon.”
Separately, a tenuous calm reigned in the Western Bekaa village of Suweiri Monday, as the Army heavily patrolled the village.
The Army restored calm to the village Sunday after a clash between two families left six dead and several others wounded, heightening fears of sectarian violence in Suweiri.
The fighting began with a personal argument Saturday and developed into armed clashes between the families of Chouman and Janbayn. The fighting renewed Sunday, bringing the death toll to six, four from the Janbayn family and two Choumans. The Choumans are Shiites while members of the Janbayn family are Sunnis.
Members of the Janbayn family Monday held the funeral of two men killed Sunday, Ahmad Janbayn and Khaled Janbayn, an Army first sergeant.
President Michel Sleiman followed up on the situation in Suweiri with the relevant officials, voicing his regret that the clashes left casualties and that houses were set ablaze, a statement from his office said. He said the spirit of love should prevail and the interests of Lebanon should come first.
Sleiman expressed relief over security measures taken by the Army and Internal Security Forces to restore peace and order in the village.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said in a statement that the Suweiri clashes were an alarm bell that should prompt Lebanese officials to adopt a rational rhetoric and reconcile their differences by forming a national unity government.