BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said Sunday that recent incidents in Arsal were a result of a heavy Syrian influx into Lebanon for the past three years, arguing that the migration had created a support base for terrorism in the country.
“Arsal’s problem started with the problem of Syrian displacement, specifically the penetration of insurgents and displaced Syrians into Lebanon, using [the country] as a supply base for insurgents” he said in a statement.
In reference to official negotiations for the release of the abducted security personnel in Arsal, the foreign minister cited a government decision to hold off on talks with terrorists, saying that negotiations would make the country the ultimate loser.
After the withdrawal of fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and the Nusra Front - some of whom resided in Syrian refugee camps in Arsal - and the cease-fire that allowed the entry of needed aid into the town, militants are still holding 25 hostages: 17 members of the Internal Security Forces and 8 soldiers, according to a security source.
The Committee of Muslim Scholars, which mediated the cease-fire and is overseeing talks to release the captured soldiers, has said that it is waiting for the kidnappers to deliver a final list of demands.
ISIS and the Nusra Front were behind the abductions, with some media reports saying that the purpose behind the kidnappings was to use the hostages as an exchange for Islamist inmates in Roumieh Prison.
Bassil stressed the need to “free the Roumieh Prison from its occupiers who have turned it in to a terrorist operation room,” referring the prison’s Islamist inmates.
The minister expressed complete rejection of such a comprise, warning that any further security breach similar to that of Arsal would inevitably lead to the complete occupation of Lebanon by extremist groups.
Sheikh Adnan Amama told The Daily Star Friday that one of the militants’ main demands was a guarantee that once the soldiers were freed, the Syrian refugee camps in Arsal would remain safe.
In that regard, Bassil reiterated his belief that Syrian refugee camps could serve as a hospitable environment for terrorism.