BEIRUT: Health Minister Wael Abu Faour Saturday visited the southern town of Shebaa, reassuring residents that there were no gunmen in the area and urging them to leave security measures to the Army and security forces.
“We are here today to tell residents of Shebaa and Arqoub that the Army is doing its job in closing the border crossing, unless it is for humanitarian issues,” Abu Faour said during his tour in the town, where fears of a Arsal-style scenario have grown given the presence of thousands of refugees.
Shebaa’s location on Lebanon’s southeastern border with Syria and the Israeli occupied Golan Heights prompted concerns that militants from rural Damascus could enter the town and clash with the Army, similar to recent events on the northeastern border in the Bekaa Valley.
Starting Aug. 2 and lasting for five days, Lebanese troops battled gunmen from Syria who attacked military and police centers following the arrest of an ISIS commander. The Army has said that the fighting in Arsal was systematic and premeditated.
Shebaa, similar to Arsal, is home to thousands of Syrians fleeing the ongoing civil war in their country.
Abu Faour said municipalities were also carrying measures to better control the presence of refugees.
“There are no weapons here or gunmen. So people should stop disseminating fear and intimidation with the aim of sowing divisions,” he said.
“The circumstances are difficult and what we are doing is a preemptive effort.”
“Today's visit is to strengthen coexistence. I carry with me Walid Jumblatt and Talal Arslan's salutations. They want this area to be like the rest of Lebanon and enjoy calm and peace.”
He also said residents of Shebaa and surrounding villages should not adopt their own security measures, asking not to “fall prey to rumors of ISIS or the Nusra Front coming to take over the town."
Lebanese authorities have taken measures against Syrian refugee gatherings across the country in light of the Arsal clashes, with Army troops raiding informal refugee camps and carrying out arrests against suspected militants.