HERMEL, Lebanon: Lebanese political and security authorities are carefully eyeing dramatic developments in Iraq, and have adopted a series of preventive measures to avoid ripples of the conflict being felt here, security sources told The Daily Star Saturday.
The Lebanese Army continued on Saturday patrols it started one day before of the border area in search of gunmen and terror suspects, the sources said.
Most gunmen have fled the Rankous area in Syria, where regime forces are tightening their grip, to the hills and valleys that separate Lebanon from its biggest neighbor.
The sources revealed that the fleeing gunmen have ambushed a Hezbollah force killing six of its members earlier this week. "In addition to the attack on Hezbollah, the fleeing fighters have carried out several kidnap-for-ransom operations to secure money for their livelihoods," one source said. "This has prompted the army to carry out a preemptive operation to limit the infiltration of fighters into Lebanese territories."
Two Syrian camps in the border town of Arsal - a favorite refuge spot for fighters coming from Syria- are currently under the close watch of the Lebanese Army, the source added.
As-Safir newspaper reported in its Saturday issue that Lebanese security agencies have taken “exceptional measures” in the last 48 hours after receiving information that “sleeper cells” affiliated with the Al-Qaeda inspired Abdallah Azzam Brigades are planning operations in Lebanon that would plunge the country back into grimmer times
The major military gains made by militants from the Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) have sent shockwaves across the political landscape in Lebanon, which is already suffering from a bloody spillover of Syria’s civil war.
According to As-Safir, Lebanese security forces stepped up their alertness on Lebanese borders, especially in zones considered hot spots, and around some Palestinian refugee camps. Security agencies will also intensify meetings next week to decide on more preventive measures.
On Friday, The Lebanese Army Friday arrested six Syrian terror suspects during a series of raids in the Bekaa Valley which aimed at preventing a possible fallout from recent dramatic developments in Iraq.
Speaking to The Daily Star, an Army source described the raids as a pre-emptive operation in order to thwart potential security incidents in Lebanon.
Lebanese concerns over the events in Iraq stem from the fact that ISIS and other Al-Qaeda-linked groups claimed responsibility for the deadly car bombings and suicide attacks earlier this year that targeted areas where Hezbollah enjoys broad support, in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Bekaa region, in response to the party’s military intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad.
“Yes, you can consider it as such, that’s true,” the source said in reference to the purpose of the operation. He described the arrests made as “important.”
“We will continue to take action every time we receive information [on suspects],” the source said, requesting to remain anonymous.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk told Al-Mustaqbal daily in comments published Saturday that it was high time the Higher Security Council holds a meeting headed by Prime Minister Tammam Salam to discuss repercussions of the violence in Iraq on Lebanon.
Machnouk said preventive measures were necessary, and revealed that Kuwaiti officials informed him during a recent visit that they had banned Iraqis from entering Kuwaiti territories as a result of the clashes in Iraq.
The Interior Minister said all Gulf countries have already taken preventive measures and Lebanon must follow suit as Lebanon is a neighbor of Syria where the war is still raging.
In the absence of a president, who usually heads the Higher Security Council, the prime minister automatically becomes the deputy head and chairs all meetings.