BEIRUT: Lebanon marked Army Day Friday with politicians emphasizing the importance of preserving the strength and unity of the national military as the region sinks deeper into turmoil.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri congratulated Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi on the occasion by telephone and stressed the need to support an institution that represents state sovereignty.
“Hariri stressed the need to keep this national institution a haven for all Lebanese in the face of current challenges and a symbol of the monopoly of power in the hands of the state and its legitimate institutions,” said a statement by Hariri’s press office.
But Hariri also noted that the celebrations were bittersweet.
“Today, every Lebanese feels a heartbreak, and so does the Army, with its command, officers and soldiers, for celebrating the day of the military institution in the absence of a president, whose position is still empty and vacant, just as the political leaders still lack the initiative to produce solutions and to put an end to the farce of the presidential vacancy,” the Future Movement leader said.
Speaker Nabih Berri also saluted the Army’s leadership and members, expressing respect for the martyrs who had fallen while performing their duties.
Berri said supporting the Army and increasing and developing its military equipment was necessary to preserve the intuition’s strength. The Amal Movement leader also hailed “the Army’s handling of both the security and defense responsibilities,” as political difficulties continue to threaten stability.
“Safeguarding the security and stability of Lebanon and the region has proven vital to confront Israeli aggression and takfiri attacks threatening to divide the region,” he said.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam telephoned Defense Minister Samir Moqbel and Kahwagi, praising the Army’s efforts in “safeguarding the nation’s security and stability and enhancing unity among its people.”
He also expressed regret that Army Day was not marked by the annual celebration at the Military Academy this year due to the presidential void, which he said took away some of the day’s symbolism.
Salam called on all the country’s political parties to “put the nation’s interest above all considerations and to proceed to elect a president as soon as possible.”
In an interview Friday, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea praised Salam’s decision to avoid organizing an Army Day ceremony in light of the lack of a president, while stressing that “Army Day exists in the heart of each one of us.”
Sidon MP Bahia Hariri also expressed her support for the military. “We emphasize our continuous support for the Army in every mission it undertakes to protect Lebanese soil, citizens and institutions,” Hariri said in a statement released Friday.
She also called on the public to support the Army in the wake of the ongoing regional turbulence.
“Amid the delicate times that the region is going through that might prove dangerous for Lebanon, all Lebanese are expected to gather around their government, security and military institutions.”
Former President Michel Sleiman said he was confident Lebanon would safely overcome these difficult times.
“Lebanon’s unity and its immunity against extremism will prevail because of the people’s confidence in their Army,” he said during a meeting with a delegation of officers from the Army Command.
Moqbel also saluted the Army in a statement Friday.
“The Army is the hope for all Lebanese and the bridge of salvation toward civil peace,” he said. “We call on all political factions, despite their different political positions, to support the Army in its mission to save Lebanon.”
Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani also congratulated Kahwagi: “The Army is the guarantee for Lebanese security, safety and stability,” he said in a statement.
Qabbani called on the Lebanese people to “reduce the intensity of the conflicts,” adding that hate speech threatened to enter the country because of the waves of extremism in the region.
Congratulations for Army Day Friday were also voiced by Amal Movement MP Hani Qobeisi.
“Most of the time, terrorism hits the Army and security forces, but the mission to fight this terrorism is a burden on all Lebanese,” Qobeisi said. He went on to recall the essential role that the Army had played and continued to play in the south to counter Israeli aggression.