BRITAL/SIDON/TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army Thursday began implementing a security plan in the Bekaa Valley, raiding locations in the eastern town of Brital, notorious for being off-limits to authorities, in search for wanted individuals, including abduction gangs and drug dealers.
Three Army helicopters flew over Brital and the town’s mountainous outskirts as well as illegal crossings as troops, backed by armored military vehicles, staged raids that resulted in the arrest of at least four wanted men, two Lebanese and two Syrians, security sources said.
The military campaign in Brital effectively unleashed a government security plan for the northern Bekaa Valley region and came more than a week after a similar plan was successfully enforced by the Army to end sectarian fighting in the northern city of Tripoli.
Army units deployed heavily in Brital and Baalbek in the early hours of the morning, carrying out raids to apprehend kidnapping suspects and car thieves, a security source told The Daily Star.
The source said most of the most-wanted individuals have already fled the town after the government expanded a successful security plan in Tripoli and Akkar to the Bekaa Valley.
Some of the vehicles used in the deadly car bombings and suicide attacks over the past year were stolen from their original owners by car thieves with links to Brital. The vehicles were later sold to armed groups who rigged and detonated them, killing scores throughout the country.
Soldiers raided the residence of Maher Tleis, wanted on several arrest warrants, including for kidnapping, but he was not there.
Hezbollah also handed over control of checkpoints in the north, on the highway linking Baalbek and Hermel, including that in the Shiite town of Labweh on the road leading to the Sunni-majority Arsal, to the Army, as part of the crackdown.
Residents in Brital expressed satisfaction with the implementation of the security plan in the Bekaa Valley, hoping the Army’s measures would help defuse tensions in the region.
Separately, a military investigative judge indicted four Syrians for belonging to an Al-Qaeda-linked group and transporting explosives-rigged vehicles from Syria into Lebanon. One of the four suspects is in custody after the Army apprehended him on the outskirts of Arsal last month, a judicial source told The Daily Star. The other three remain at large.
The indictment, issued by Judge Fadi Sawwan, accused the four of belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria and transporting explosives-rigged vehicles and bombs into Lebanon.
In Tripoli, minor incidents did not seem to threaten the security plan which went into effect on April 1, putting an end to the state of chaos and sectarian fighting that have plagued the city over the past three years.
A soldier was lightly wounded in Tripoli Wednesday night during a raid to arrest suspects wanted for tossing hand grenades in the city, the Army said in a statement Thursday.
It said Hussam Dayekh was arrested for throwing, with other accomplices, some hand grenades in the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood.
In a move signaling seriousness about the security plan, Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghayda issued an arrest warrant in absentia for pro-Assad figure Rifaat Eid and 11 of his associates over their alleged involvement in clashes in Tripoli. Abu Ghayda’s warrants are based on articles in the Penal Code that could lead to the death penalty, a judicial source told The Daily Star.
Eid, an Arab Democratic Party official, and his associates were charged last week with belonging to an armed terrorist group, participation in the Tripoli clashes, and killing and attempted killing of civilians.
Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr charged an additional 15 people of Syrian and Lebanese nationalities from Jabal Mohsen in Eid’s case.
He also charged 14 individuals with forming an armed group in Bab al-Tabbaneh to “undermine the state authority and attack its civilian and military institutions.”
They were also accused of “shooting at security forces, inciting sectarian strife, damaging public and private properties, killing and attempted killing.”
In a separate statement, the police’s Information Branch said it arrested a “dangerous” suspect wanted by the authorities for involvement in Tripoli’s recent clashes. Identified by his two initials H.A., the man was a fighter on the Jabal Mohsen front, the statement said.
Meanwhile, tension was high in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh Thursday, a day after a Sunni sheikh escaped an assassination attempt.
Sheikh Arsan Sleiman, an official in the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, was shot Wednesday as he was leaving a memorial service for Tarek Safadi, an aid worker who died in the crossfire during inter-Palestinian fighting at the nearby Mieh Mieh refugee camp on the outskirts of Sidon Monday.
Medical sources said Sleiman was still in critical condition after a bullet entered his skull through his eye.
Ain al-Hilweh observed a general strike Thursday to protest the attempt to kill Sleiman, bringing commercial life in the camp to a standstill.
In a bid to head off any negative repercussions of the assassination attempt on the Ain al-Hilweh and Mieh Mieh camps, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of Lebanon’s General Security, met with representatives of various Palestinian factions in Sidon.
The participants agreed to set up a security force from all Palestinian factions with a mandate to control the security situation in the two camps, sources who attended the meeting said. They also agreed to form a committee to investigate the Mieh Mieh clashes and the attempt to kill Sleiman.