BEIRUT: The United States offered Monday full support for Lebanon in its fight against terrorism as the country struggles to ward off the threat of violent fallout from Iraq and Syria.
“We stand by your side and offer full support, assistance and partnership to the ISF and Lebanese Army,” U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale said on his Twitter account.
Hale also renewed his country’s call for a swift election of a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25, in order for international assistance for Lebanon to be effective.
His comments came after a meeting with Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail to discuss security concerns following last week’s suicide bombing at a police checkpoint on the Beirut-Damascus highway that raised fears of a violent spillover from Syria and Iraq. A police officer was killed and 33 people were wounded in the bombing.
Hale said he discussed with Salam “many issues facing our two countries, including our strong support for Lebanon’s security and management of the spillover from the war in Syria.”
“Friday’s bombing – the loss of an ISF officer and the injuries to others – and the various security operations – reinforce America’s commitment to Lebanon’s safety and its security,” Hale said in a statement after meeting Salam.
“A stable Lebanon is more important than ever. Lebanon’s government and security institutions are working hard and effectively to counter terrorism and maintain the country’s stability. We stand by your side and offer our full support and assistance,” he added in the statement released by the U.S. Embassy.
The Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces have beefed up security measures in Beirut and its suburbs over the weekend to crack down on suspected terrorist groups following the deadly bombing in Dahr al-Baidar on the Beirut-Damascus highway.
The Dahr al-Baidar attack, coupled on the same day with a police raid on two Beirut hotels that led to the detention of terror suspects allegedly linked to a plot to assassinate Speaker Nabih Berri, placed Lebanon on high security alert.
The security concerns came as Lebanese leaders have warned of threats to Lebanon’s stability arising from the military advances in Iraq by the Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) during which they seized large swaths of Iraqi territory.
ISIS and other Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have claimed responsibility for the deadly car bombings and suicide attacks earlier this year and late last year that targeted Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Bekaa region, where Hezbollah enjoys wide support, in response to the party’s role in Syria.
Hale urged the rival Lebanese factions to comply with the Baabda Declaration and implicitly criticized Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria to aid President Bashar Assad’s forces.
“This is a time to close gaps so that Lebanon’s security and stability can be reinforced,” he said. “Upholding the Baabda Declaration and adopting a true policy of dissociation from the conflict in Syria are essential. The region’s battles must not be fought in Lebanon; but that means Lebanese should not be drawn into the battles being fought by others elsewhere.”
The 2012 Baabda Declaration, signed by rival March 8 and March 14 leaders at Baabda Palace, called for distancing Lebanon from regional and international conflicts, particularly the war in Syria.
As the presidential deadlock this week enters its second month with no solution in sight, the U.S. ambassador urged the feuding parties to accelerate efforts to elect a president.
“A challenge that is for the Lebanese alone is to resolve its election of a Lebanese president. For international assistance to be effective, Lebanon’s friends seek fully functioning partners of governance in the presidency, Parliament, and the Cabinet,” Hale said.
“The decisions are for the Lebanese, but the costs of indecision will continue to be felt by everyone with a stake in Lebanon’s stability and security. We urge intensified effort to elect a president,” he added.
Berri also urged the rival factions to elect a president, saying Lebanese unity was essential to shield Lebanon from the repercussions of regional conflicts.
“Lebanon has to protect itself,” he said, adding that lawmakers “must elect a president and stop disrupting constitutional institutions.”
Last week, Parliament was unable to meet for the seventh time to elect a president for a lack of quorum, prompting Berri to adjourn the session until July 2. As in previous sessions, lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s bloc, Hezbollah’s bloc and their March 8 allies boycotted the session in a bid to pressure March 14 into a deal over a consensus candidate for the presidency.
Berri stressed the need for Lebanese unity in the face of “storms sweeping us and across the region.”
“Lebanon is one big family,” he said. “The Lebanese people are the primary guarantee for institutions. Their unity, in addition to the resistance and the Army, protected Lebanon during the 2006 Israeli aggression and achieved victory.”
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt also called for a swift election of a president.
“It is now urgent and necessary ... [that] we seek to unify our vision to confront the upcoming dangerous and fast-moving developments, so that we can preserve General Gouraud’s Lebanon before it is too late,” said Jumblatt, in remarks published by the PSP’s online Al-Anbaa newspaper.
Henry Gouraud announced the creation of the Greater Lebanon in 1920, drawing the country’s current borders.
Noting that the region is facing “great changes,” Jumblatt urged the rival factions to adopt a new approach to resolve political differences and speed up the election of a new president.