BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk held rare talks Saturday with Hezbollah’s top security official to devise a plan to secure an exit for Lebanese living in a border enclave, saying the government seeks to distance the village from the Syrian crisis.
The meeting, chaired by Machnouk, brought together Hezbollah's Wafik Safa, the head of General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and several other Lebanese security officials.
“The meeting was aimed at drafting a practical plan to help Lebanese in the village of Tfail, which we can only reach by entering Syrian territory,” Machnouk told reporters after the meeting at the ministry.
“We want to inform the residents that we are ready to provide them with an exit from Tfail to other areas with the help of the army and security forces exclusively,” he added, saying the purpose was to “prevent the village from being caught in the Syrian fire.”
The border village has grown isolated from Lebanese territory as the only accessible road to the Bekaa Valley has been cut off and seized by Syrian army soldiers as part of the regime’s offensive to root out rebels in the Qalamoun region.
Residents in the remote town, home to 3,000 Lebanese and some 5,000 Syrian refugees, told The Daily Star Friday that the village had come under heavy bombardment earlier this week.
Machnouk said representatives of the various security agencies would meet again in the next 24 hours to contact local figures and secure a passage.
He said the government’s High Relief Committee was tasked with proving fleeing residents with “dignified” housing once they reached Lebanon.
“We agreed not to allow any armed individual enter Lebanon,” he said, referring to possible infiltration of armed groups into Lebanon during the evacuation.
Asked whether the presence of a Hezbollah official meant the government legitimatized its arms and presence in Syria, Machnouk said: “Hezbollah is part of the conflict in Syria, consequently, we cannot draft a plan as such without coordinating with it.”
“Hajj Safa expressed keenness on the safety of residents and responded positively to the plan,” he added.
Machnouk and his allies in the March 14 coalition are staunch critics of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria and have repeatedly called on the party to withdraw.