BEIRUT: As the Internal Security Forces celebrate their 153rd anniversary, acting ISF chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous pledged Monday that Lebanon’s police force would remain above sectarian and political divisions as the country continues to face grave internal and external problems.
“We can assure you that we are staying away from sectarian divisions and are not biased to any political stances,” Basbous said at a ceremony to mark the anniversary held at the Maj. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan barracks in Dbayeh, north of Beirut.
“The Internal Security Forces will remain in the service of the nation and its honest citizens,” he said.
“However, it will not tolerate outlaws and will strike violators with an iron fist,” he said.
“We achieve victory for the unjust and we do not fear the tyrant.”
The ceremony was attended by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and a number of political and military officials, governors, diplomats, and ambassadors. Both Machnouk and Basbous laid a wreath on the ISF Martyrs’ Monument while police members held a parade that included marching with flags and banners and demonstrations of martial arts, military skills and shooting.
Established in 1861 under Ottoman rule, the ISF was set up with the backing of world powers in 1861 following the end of 20 years of sectarian violence in Mount Lebanon between the Druze and Maronite communities. Prior to its existence, Lebanese emirs deployed their own armed men to provide security and enforce laws.
Basbous said that despite the fragile security situation, the police force – with the help of the Army – had been able to implement several security crackdowns as well as arrest terrorist cells and criminal gangs.
Security challenges over the last few years have mostly been linked to the Syrian crisis, and have included car bombs, kidnappings and never-ending rounds of clashes in the northern city of Tripoli between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Hailing the achievements of the force, Basbous said: “You were and will remain the safety valve for all Lebanese. The Lebanese will remember your battles against terrorism and your efforts to dismantle terrorist cells and prevent Lebanon from deteriorating.”
“I also hail the cooperation between the Army and the police to protect the country,” he added.
Basbous also highlighted the police force’s other accomplishments, including launching a campaign against domestic violence, opening a human rights office at the Inspection Department, and forming a committee against torture practices in Lebanese prisons.
Machnouk, however, said the political divisions in the country had affected the police and called for a new “security culture” in Lebanon.
“Due to the political conflict, the Internal Security Forces has been placed in a position where it had to defend itself instead of defending the people,” he said.
Addressing the ISF members present, he added: “There is a lot riding on you to keep going and develop your path. You are capable of establishing a new security culture with your achievements.”
Machnouk also said he would exert all efforts to resolve the problems of Lebanese prisons.
“I will knock on every Arab and international door to achieve modern prisons in the country,” he said.
Lebanon’s prisons are renowned for their decrepit conditions and the poor treatment of inmates, especially in Roumieh, the country’s largest detention facility, where prisoners have repeatedly rioted to demand improvements.
Also speaking at the anniversary celebrations, ISF spokesman Col. Joseph Moussallem said Lebanon’s police force aimed to serve the people, provide security and protect public freedoms, but also pointed to the difficulties facing the force of late.
“It’s not easy for the police institution to celebrate its steadfastness after all these years,” he said. “We recall today the pain of suffering, the joy of achievement, and the satisfaction with the progress and development.
“Herein lies the unique property of the Internal Security Forces, which revolves around the protection of exercising freedoms and rights, and this is the supreme virtue linked to its capacity derived from serving people, and staying up to ensure their comfort and allay their concerns,” he added.