BEIRUT: Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi Sunday revealed that the clashes in northeast Lebanon were premeditated, refuting claims that the militant attack on security forces was driven by the detention of a prominent terror suspect.Speaking at a rare news conference following two days of clashes between Lebanese troops and militants in and around the Bekaa Valley village of Arsal near the border with Syria, Kahwagi vowed that the Army would continue its military operations to fight terrorism.
“It is not true that the clashes began because of the Army’s detention of Imad Jomaa,” Kahwagi said, referring to the suspect who had confessed to planning a large terrorist operation against Army bases.
Kahwagi also pointed out that Jomaa was surveying the area in order to put the “final touches” on the planned terrorist attack.
“This terrorist attack which occurred yesterday was neither an attack by chance nor coincidental. It was planned a long time ago, [with the militants] waiting for the appropriate time, which came during the last 48 hours,” he told reporters at the Defense Ministry.
Kahwagi emphasized that the attack was meticulously planned, as “evidenced by the swiftness of the terrorists in surrounding bases and taking captives.”
He confirmed that 10 Lebanese Army soldiers had been killed and 25 wounded, with another 13 soldiers missing and likely taken hostage by the militants.
Another soldier was killed after the news conference, bringing the total death toll to 11, while the number of wounded rose to 30 and the number of missing troops rose to 15.
Kahwagi reiterated the Army’s readiness to confront “the huge takfiri threat,” stressing the need to act quickly or “takfiri movements would benefit from what is happening in Arsal and would replicate the incident in another [Lebanese] region.”
“We call on all political and spiritual leaders to be wary of what is being planned for Lebanon and what is coming to us, because any occurrence in any region ... will be regarded as a grave danger because of the risk of transmission,” he said.
Kahwagi said the militants are predominantly foreigners who work in “collaboration with people planted inside refugee camps.”
He called for settling the issue inside refugee camps, as well as the regions hosting them, in order to prevent such locations from becoming a pool for terrorism.
Kahwagi affirmed that the Army would work to prevent any further spillover from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, fearing that the formation of the Islamic State across the Iraqi-Syrian borders would soon expand to the Lebanese-Syrian borders.
“Lebanon’s geography will not be far from this threat,” he added.
“Arsal is a Lebanese village that is dear to us ... what is happening on the outskirts of Arsal touches upon all regions of the country,” Kahwagi said.