BEIRUT: The situation in Arsal is a ticking time bomb and Lebanon's political forces must reach a consensus to defuse it, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk warned Friday, as calm returned to the border town after clashes the previous day.
“This issue is a time-bomb ready to explode anytime,” Machnouk said, referring to the deadly clashes in the northeastern border region of Arsal, after meeting with MP Michel Aoun.
“We discussed the need to activate the functions of Parliament to debate essential issues,” Machnouk said. “Arsal, specifically, was the focal point of our discussions, which requires the [various] political forces to agree on a number of principles."
Machnouk also said that Lebanon must control the entry of Syrian refugees into Lebanon to curb the political, economic and security threat.
Life returned to normal in Arsal Friday, with residents venturing more confidently into the streets, a day after the Army clashed with Islamist militants on the town's outskirts in the wake of an ambush targeting a military unit.
Earlier Friday, the families of 29 Lebanese soldiers and policemen held hostage by Islamist militants staged a sit-in outside the Halba Serail in north Lebanon, calling for intensified action to bring their loved ones home.
The peaceful protest in the Akkar town of Halba by a crowd of about 200 lasted an hour.
“We call for intensified efforts to free our sons,” one protestor shouted.
In a related development, a number of residents of Halba briefly blocked two roads at the towns of Rahba and Mashha, calling for the speedy return of the kidnapped soldiers and policemen.
The protest came hours after images of what appeared to the beheading of Ali Sayyed, a soldier held captive by ISIS, were heavily circulated on social media Thursday night.
Sayyed hails from Akkar.
The Lebanese Army said Thursday night that it could neither confirm nor deny a claim by a member of ISIS that the militant group had beheaded Sayyed, one of 29 soldiers and policemen the group captured earlier this month following clashes with the Lebanese Army in Arsal.
“Now you know who are the lions of ISIS,” tweeted Abou Misaab Hafid al-Baghdadi, who claimed to be an ISIS member, posting a gruesome picture allegedly showing Sayyed’s beheading.
A senior Army official said the military was investigating reports on the alleged beheading of Sayyed.