BEIRUT: The March 14 coalition Tuesday appealed to the Syrian opposition to help end deadly clashes between the Lebanese Army and militants from Syrian rebel groups who have seized the border town of Arsal.
The group also reiterated its position that Hezbollah and its allies are responsible for the fighting.“We affirm our demand [to the Syrian opposition], to be aware of the danger of having Syrian militants involved in an armed conflict in Lebanon and with the Lebanese security services,” MP Fouad Siniora said, reading the coalition’s statement. “This requires that they work on ending this violation, which could stab the Lebanese and Syrian people along with their rightful causes.
“The Lebanese people, who have long supported the Syrian uprising and opened their borders to the Syrians, cannot accept any Syrian faction carrying arms in the face of the people and their security institutions, primarily the Army, or holding soldiers hostage and place security at risk under any excuse,” said the former premier.
Militants from extremist groups crossed from Syria and took control of the town of Arsal Saturday after storming Army posts there. Sixteen Lebanese soldiers have been killed in the ongoing fighting, which has also claimed the lives of at least 50 militants and 12 civilians. Some 22 soldiers are also missing, and 16 members of the national police have been kidnapped by the militants, three of whom were released Tuesday.
The March 14 coalition called on the government to ask the U.N. Security Council to help the Army control the border with Syria through the deployment of a peacekeeping force as part of Resolution 1701, saying the move would help safeguard Lebanon from the spillover of violence.
Siniora also urged the Lebanese government to prevent the passage of fighters from and to Syria, and reiterated calls for Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from the civil war next door, saying its involvement there was a factor in what was happening in Arsal.
“The March 14 coalition believes that Hezbollah and its allies are largely responsible for what Arsal, Lebanon and its Army are being subjected to,” Siniora said.
“This is because Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria alongside the Syrian regime has prevented successive Lebanese governments from making any decision or measure to protect Lebanon and distance it from the conflict in Syria,” Siniora said.
Siniora called on militants in Arsal to release all kidnapped soldiers and for all non-Lebanese militants to withdraw from the town. He also said the government should build refugee centers near the borders with Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun warned against any negotiations with the militants, and called for contacts to be made with the Syrian government in a bid to end the problem in Arsal.
“The place where the problem is happening requires an agreement with Syria for the sake of the security of both countries,” Aoun said after chairing a meeting of his bloc.
He described proposals to deploy UNIFIL troops along the border with Syria as an “illusion.”