BEIRUT: Officials in Arsal called on the Army Thursday to implement a security plan in the town mimicking initiatives in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley, in the latest move to stem the fallout from the Syrian war on the embattled town.
“We hope the security plan will be expanded to reach our whole region, similar to what happened in Tripoli and the north,” said a statement released by Arsal Mayor Ali Hujeiri and the town’s municipal council.
The statement saluted Army soldiers and commanders for Lebanese Army Day, which is Friday, and praised the Army’s efforts to secure Arsal and the country.
It called on the residents of Arsal to show patience and cooperation toward the Army’s security arrangements in the region.
“We call on our people in Arsal not to lose patience because of some arrangements on Army checkpoints in Arsal, because we are sure that these arrangements are the result of security data and practical complexities in such difficult circumstances,” the statement said.
On the other hand, the statement called on the Army leadership to treat its residents equally with all other citizens.
Earlier Thursday, the Army arrested six Syrian nationals on suspicion of belonging to Syrian rebel groups, the National News Agency reported.
The agency said four were detained at a Lebanese Army checkpoint in Wadi Ain-Ata, and two at a checkpoint in Ain al-Shaab. The six were handed over to the judicial police for further interrogation.
Residents of Arsal are sympathetic to the Syrian rebels, many of whom are believed to be taking refuge in the mountainous area bordering the town.
Carol Malouf, a Lebanese political commentator who spent two days in Arsal earlier this week, said the situation there was “dangerous.”
“People are scared,” she said, adding that increasing numbers of opposition fighters were pledging allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Al-Qaeda splinter group that has made major gains in Iraq and Syria in recent months.
Still, most of Arsal’s residents are wary of the Lebanese Army’s leadership and may not welcome a Tripoli-style security plan.
If the Army started searching refugee settlements and cracking down on those who have entered Lebanon illegally, it “might trigger a counter reaction,” Malouf said.
Moreover, Malouf said, opposition fighters may try to attack the Lebanese Army, which they claim is a tool of Hezbollah. “They are explicit that they want to attack the Lebanese Army checkpoint,” at the edge of Arsal, Malouf said.
Concern for the welfare of the Syrian refugees around Arsal and respect for the village elders who welcomed them as they fled the battles in Qalamoun and Yabroud is all that is preventing the militants from staging an attack in the town of Arsal, Malouf said.
“But I don’t know how long this will last,” she added.
The Arsal municipal statement stressed that the town supported the Lebanese Army and its people would fight against whoever “dares to harm our Army, especially in Arsal.”
“We will use this opportunity to warn the Army against the sides that intend to conspire against it.”
Reports of a coordinated campaign by the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah to oust Syrian rebels opposed to the regime of Bashar Assad, with possible coordination with the Syrian military, has increased fears of growing opposition to the Army in Sunni towns in the north.
Many of the Army’s recruits come from poorer Sunni-majority towns and villages in the north. Salafist sheikhs such as the firebrand preacher Ahmad al-Assir have often urged these soldiers to defect, citing alleged mistreatment of Sunni communities and collusion with Hezbollah.
Police also announced that several arrests were made during the Eid al-Fitr holiday, over offenses that included drug possession, stolen vehicles and weapons possession.
The Internal Security Forces released a statement saying that 23 arrests were made, and 46 motorcycles and 13 cars confiscated during Eid al-Fitr in Beirut.
Among the 23 arrested, 10 were detained for drug possession, two for robbery, two for driving stolen motorcycles, two for carrying weapons, one for prostitution and the rest for different offenses.