BEIRUT: Lebanese politicians condemned the targeting of Lebanese security forces in northeast Lebanon Saturday, urging the Lebanese to stand behind the military and the Internal Security Forces.
Speaker Nabih Berri, who called Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, said the Lebanese must unite behind their security forces, warning that attacks on security institutions affected Lebanon as a whole.
Militants demanding the release of a suspected Nusra Front commander arrested earlier Saturday by the Army attacked government checkpoints and police stations in and around the Baalbek region village of Arsal in the northern Bekaa Valley. Two soldiers were killed in Wadi Hmayyed, on the outskirts of Arsal, and at least one was wounded inside the village, a security source told The Daily Star.
The source said that two Lebanese soldiers had been kidnapped before being freed later in the afternoon by the Army.
“We are certain that our people in Arsal will not allow terrorism to take a hold of their village,” Berri said in statement. “The people of Arsal [who have triumphed against Israeli occupation] will never allow the targeting of the Army and security forces.”
The militants also stormed the police station in Arsal, taking control of the building and releasing several Syrian detainees held there, a security source told The Daily Star. The source said two civilians were killed while trying to prevent the militants from attacking the station.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam followed up on the situation in Arsal with Kahwagi, ISF commander Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous and Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk. Salam condemned the Arsal assault as a "blatant attack on the Lebanese state and the Lebanese armed forces.”
Salam said his government would be firm in dealing with the attacks against security forces and urged various political groups “to exercise wisdom and responsibility and to exert every effort to safeguard Lebanon and distance it from looming dangers."
The Future Movement issued a statement calling on "all concerned parties" in Arsal to cooperate with the Lebanese Army. The party of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Hezbollah's involvement in Syria did not in any way justify breaches on Lebanon's sovereignty.
Defense Minister Samir Moqbel said any attempt by takfiri terrorists to infiltrate Lebanon would be nipped in the bud thanks to the alertness and steadfastness of the Lebanese Army.
Moqbel added that the Arsal incidents would render the military even more determined to confront terror threats.
For its part, the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon condemned the assault on the Lebanese Army in Arsal, saying the country supported the Army and the Internal Security Forces as they work toward stability in Lebanon.
The U.S. Embassy said the disassociation policy was Lebanon’s best defense against regional conflict.
This week, officials in Arsal called on the Army to implement a security plan in the town, mimicking initiatives in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley, to stem the fallout from the Syrian war on the embattled town.
The statement saluted Army soldiers and commanders for Lebanese Army Day, which was Friday, and praised the Army’s efforts to secure Arsal and the country.
Residents of Arsal are sympathetic to the Syrian revolution. Many gunmen fleeing the battles between rebel groups on the one hand and the Syrian Army and Hezbollah on the other are believed to be taking refuge in the mountainous area bordering the village.
The Arsal statement signed by Mayor Ali al-Hujeiri stressed that the town supported the Lebanese Army and its people would fight against whoever “dares to harm our Army, especially in Arsal.”