BEIRUT: Condemnations and condolences poured in over the weekend as deadly clashes between the Lebanese Army and gunmen in the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal showed no signs of letting up Sunday night. “The persistence of terrorist crimes that are supported by foreign cover and internal justification is an indicator of the imminent danger targeting Lebanon,” Hezbollah said in a statement, referring to allegations that the party’s involvement in Syria prompted the terrorist attack on Arsal.
Hezbollah called on the Lebanese people to stop looking for for justifications for the actions of terrorist groups, and urged citizens to stand united in the face of terrorism.
Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Musawi went even further.
“Everyone in Lebanon now knows that had we [Hezbollah] not done what we did when we appointed ourselves to defend Lebanon and the resistance then our situation today would have been like Arsal. Security forces, governmental institutions and the Lebanese Army would have been subject to attacks everywhere ... for this reason we are proud to be pioneers in evaluating the size of the takfiri threat,” he said.
Others placed the blame squarely on Hezbollah.
The Future Movement’s Secretary-General Ahmad Hariri said Arsal and the Lebanese Army were facing “the scourges of Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria,” condemning the party for “their insistence on bringing the flame of extremism to Lebanon.”
Hariri lauded Arsal residents’ “heroic stand beside legitimate Lebanese institutions in fighting off the militants.”
His comments came one day after the Future bloc issued a statement calling on “all concerned parties” in Arsal to cooperate with the Lebanese Army.
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.”
Speaker Nabih Berri said the Lebanese must unite behind their security forces, warning that attacks on security institutions affected Lebanon as a whole.
“We are certain that our people in Arsal will not allow terrorism to take hold of their village,” the head of the Amal Movement said. “The people of Arsal [who have triumphed against Israeli occupation] will never allow the targeting of the Army and security forces.”
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said that supporting the Lebanese Army gains primacy over internal conflict and hollow considerations, stressing that the “sole mission should be [expressing] solidarity and support with the Lebanese Army and security forces in the face of armed groups and takfirism.”
In a later statement, Jumblatt said Hezbollah’s interference in Syria was not what brought ISIS to Lebanon, adding that Hezbollah’s men are sacrificing their lives in Syria.
Tripoli MP Mohammad Kabbara struck a defiant tone, condemning the Army’s “attacks on Arsal,” arguing that the conflict was a regional plot aimed at subjugating the Sunni sect in the region.
“What is happening in the heroic Sunni Arsal is nothing but an episode in the Syrian-Iranian series of subjugating the Sunni people,” Kabbara said during a meeting in his Tripoli residence.
“We are warning against transforming the Army from a national institution whose duty is to protect all the Lebanese to one resembling Al-Maliki’s Army” he added, referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been criticized for corrupting state institutions to favor the Shiite constituency in Iraq.
The MP also accused Hezbollah and Iran of using Sunni families as human shields.
“Had the Army deployed along the border sooner, the country would not have got to where it is today,” Sabbara said, urging Hezbollah to cease firing rockets at Arsal.
For his part, Kataeb Party Head Amine Gemayel stressed that takfiri terrorism was a foreign element to Lebanon, saying that it is “a germ that can’t settle in any town or village.” He went on to suggest that Lebanon present its case to the United Nations Security Council and ask for assistance in preserving its “security and sovereignty.”
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said that “what is happening in Arsal is an armed foreign terrorist force’s occupation of a Lebanese town.”
The U.S. Embassy in Lebanon condemned the assault on the Lebanese Army, with Ambassador David Hale meeting Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi to express his country’s support for the Lebanese military’s fight against terrorism.
The embassy issued a statement saying Hale expressed his condolences for the deaths of soldiers, praising “the courage of all of Lebanon’s security services in their work to provide safety and stability throughout Lebanon and secure its borders.”
The U.S. State Department also issued a statement condemning the attack and urging Lebanon to pursue a policy of disassociation from regional conflicts.
The United States “strongly condemns the attack,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, vowing “strong support” from Washington for Lebanon’s state institutions.
This week, officials in Arsal urged the Army to implement a security plan in the town, like the initiatives in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley, to stem the fallout from the Syrian war.
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.”
At least 11 soldiers and 30 militants were killed in clashes that started Saturday following the arrest of a Syrian suspect. The suspect’s supporters laid siege to government facilities in the border town, sparking clashes that raged over two days.
Thirteen soldiers are missing, presumed kidnapped, and another 16 police were abducted and are reportedly being held at the house of a local figure.