BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Interior Minister stressed Thursday that Gulf citizens would continue to receive visas on arrival at the airport, a day after a Saudi suicide bomber killed himself and wounded 12 people to evade arrest during a raid on his room at a Beirut hotel.
“Discussing the issue that visas should be granted for Gulf nationals by prior application is out of the question,” Nouhad Machnouk told reporters upon arrival at the Grand Serail for a Cabinet meeting set for 11 a.m.
He was responding to a report by the local newspaper As-Safir, which said that the Cabinet will discuss requesting Gulf visitors to apply for a visa in advance.
Machnouk said Lebanon was keen on maintaining good ties with GCC countries, which include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE.
Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri told LBCI that "we respect any official Lebanese decision, if authorities choose to impose visas [on Saudi's]."
Machnouk's remarks were echoed by Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi.
“There is no need to impose visas on Gulf citizens. And should this happen then the same thing should be imposed on Iranians,” he said as he arrived for the Cabinet meeting.
After Cabinet's session, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said that tourists from the Gulf would still recieve visas upon arrival.
"Visas do not affect the terrorists ... We need all people, especially from the Gulf States and [it is] our duty to promote proactive precautions to prevent the infiltration of anyone who wants to hurt our country,” he said.
However Hezbollah minister Mohammad Fneish argued in favor of changing the visa requirements.
“We approve any request by the security [agencies],” he said from the Grand Serail.
General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim had warned against issuing visas at the border.
“General Security has called for non-issuance of visas on border crossings,” he told a local television channel.
Ibrahim, however, said the decision lies with the government. “General Security will deal with the matter whatever the decision.”
Ibrahim’s warning came following a crackdown on security across the country as Lebanon witnessed a third suicide bombing in less than a week Wednesday.
“Lebanon and anyone who does their job to combat terrorism is being targeted,” said Ibrahim, while visiting those wounded in Wednesday’s attack at the American University of Beirut Medical Center. “Such attacks will not intimidate us.”
Sources at the Grand Serail said security issues would top talks at the Cabinet meeting.
Machnouk, commenting on Cabinet’s new work mechanism said in an interview by the local daily Al-Joumhouria published Thursday that "the [tense] security climate will pressure Parliament's meeting and compel the Cabinet to take a political stance [on the mechanism] to cope with security ... we must not waste time getting into the details while the country is a target and all ministers are united in solidarity."
Refusing to name the new method to oversee governmental work in light of a presidential void, Machnouk said: “We are looking towards implementing Cabinet’s agency with full powers, adding to [existing privileges] the full powers of the presidency in line with Article 62 of the constitution. This entails that decisions issued by the Cabinet must be signed by all the ministers present on the record, which also implies [their] consent to these decisions.”
As for the method of issuing the new mechanism under the authority of the council, the Interior Minister said that a select group of ministers representing various political blocs will be appointed to sign decrees on behalf of the president, stressing that not all ministers will be given the authority.
“It is natural if we do not reach consensus [that we] appoint a group of ministers from different political blocs to sign ministerial decrees,” said Machnouk, adding that this would form a representative microcosm of Parliament within Parliament.