BEIRUT: Hezbollah Sunday defended its own “private security” measures it has been enforcing in Beirut’s southern suburbs following two deadly car bombings, saying Lebanese security agencies are unable to protect the densely-populated area.
Hezbollah’s deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem said his party had to carry out its own security measures in the southern suburbs after it had been told by chiefs of Lebanese security agencies that they are unable to protect the area.
His remarks came as Hezbollah has come under harsh criticism from the Future Movement and its March 14 allies for enforcing “private security” in the form of checkpoints in the southern suburbs. Critics say the Hezbollah move undermines the state’s authority.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel has also spoken out against private security measures imposed by political parties, saying that erecting checkpoints and inspection of vehicles are solely responsibility of security and military bodies.
“We believe that security is the responsibility of the Lebanese security agencies as we believe that justice is the responsibility of the Lebanese judiciary,” Qassem said in a speech in the southern suburbs.
Recalling that his party had rejected civil administration adopted in some areas by rival political parties during the 1975-90 Civil War, Qassem said: “We have never acted to replace the state, neither in security, political and social issues, nor in any other issue. Two bombings happened in the southern suburbs that resulted in victims, wounded and destruction. The Lebanese security forces told us that preparations were underway for an additional bombing attempt in the [southern] suburbs and in some areas.”
“The bombings did not target specific figures or sites of Hezbollah, but the people anywhere. Therefore, the state is responsible for protecting the people since they are paying taxes,” he said.
Following the two bombings, Qassem said Hezbollah officials had met with chiefs of security agencies to discuss measures to protect the southern suburbs from a new wave of bombings.
“We clearly asked them [security chiefs] to do their job, but they said they are unable to do so. They said, ‘We cannot provide the number [of security personnel] or protect the [southern] suburbs and some other areas,’” Qassem said.
He added that Hezbollah rejected the security chiefs’ response and demanded a political decision from the caretaker government to increase the number of security personnel.
“We say that the Lebanese security agencies are solely responsible for the people’s security and they must search for a solution. Until a solution is found, what shall we do? Shall we leave our areas unprotected, giving criminals and takfiris a chance to carry out aggressive actions against the people?” Qassem asked.
“We have volunteered to prevent booby-trapped cars, without this having anything to do with other matters pertaining to the people’s security,” Qassem added.
Hezbollah has beefed up its security measures in the southern suburbs, the south and the Bekaa Valley after a car bomb attack in the Ruwaiss neighborhood killed 30 people and wounded over 300 on Aug. 15.
The blast came more than a month after a similar car bombing wounded more than 50 in the neighborhood of Bir al-Abed in the southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold.
The two explosions were linked to the war in Syria, where Hezbollah’s fighters are helping forces loyal to President Bashar Assad against armed rebels seeking to topple the regime.
Hezbollah erected checkpoints, particularly at the entrances and exits of the southern suburbs, where the party’s security agents inspected cars and asked the passengers for their identification papers, in a measure that resulted in traffic congestion.
Responding to March 14 critics of Hezbollah’s security measures, Qassem said: “What is the alternative solution? They [March 14] say the state is the solution. But the state is saying it is unable [to protect the suburbs]. In this case, shall we keep the streets open to booby-trapped cars to come and go, causing victims?”