BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his absolute support for the Lebanese Army, calling on it to liberate Arsal from the Islamist groups that had taken it hostage.
“There is no place for the Takfiri and terrorist organizations, and there will be no leniency with its destructive mission, which is alien to the people of moderation and tolerance,” Hariri said in an interview by Al-Hayat newspaper published Monday.
Hariri said that the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and the Al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front had no choice but to leave Arsal, stressing that neither the state nor his party will tolerate their mission.
He said that the Lebanese Army and the Internal Security Forces are red lines to the Future Movement, which has a strategic and fixed stand toward Takfiri groups.
“Is this how the favor is returned to the people of Arsal, who hosted their brethren refuging from Syria and didn’t hold back any support they could give them?” Hariri asked, adding that Arsal’s residents have one mission only, and it’s the mission of the Lebanese state.
“Have they been rewarded by being turned into hostages because they said no to these groups?” he continued, underlining that the events taking place in Arsal are a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty and the sovereignty of the state over its territory.
At least 11 Lebanese soldiers were killed and 15 taken hostage in the weekend battles between the Army and Islamist militants in and around Arsal, in the most serious spillover of violence from the war in Syria.
The fighting in Arsal, located near the border with Syria, in which at least 40 militants mostly from Syria’s Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front were also killed, heightened fears Lebanon could be dragged further into the Syrian war with all the dire consequences this entailed on the country’s fragile security and stability.
The Army had vowed Sunday to end its campaign in “48 hours,” pledging to eradicate all armed existence from the town.