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Hezbollah security chief’s Sidon visit sparks attack fears

  • File - Senior Hezbollah security official Wafiq Safa, center, checks the site of an explosion in Beirut, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

SIDON, Lebanon: A visit by a senior Hezbollah official has stoked fears that the party is worried about possible terror attacks in the south, political sources said Tuesday.

Such fears are linked to the political standoff engulfing the newly formed Cabinet and deteriorating relations between states in the region, they added.

Wafiq Safa, Hezbollah’s top security official, held several meetings with politicians and security officials in Sidon in the last couple of days, prompting questions about the impetus behind a visit by such a senior member of the party.

Sources in Sidon said that Safa’s visit comes at a “very sensitive moment” in order to prevent what they described as “major dangers” facing the city.

Political sources said Hezbollah was worried about attacks in south Lebanon, a concern that has risen with the increase in hostility between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over the latter’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and disagreements between the March 8 and 14 political blocs over the Cabinet’s policy statement.

Hezbollah accuses Saudi Arabia of backing militants in Lebanon. The Cabinet has been deadlocked over whether to acknowledge the party’s right to resist Israel’s occupation in its policy statement, which declares the government’s priorities during its tenure.

Both developments risk enflaming the situation in Lebanon, which is already reeling from the impact of the civil war in Syria.

The sources said Hezbollah disclosed intelligence related to possible security threats to officials in Sidon.

Safa met with Samir Shehadeh, a senior Internal Security Forces officer in charge of security in the south who survived an assassination attempt years ago.

Hezbollah’s relationship with the ISF has long been strained as the organization’s leaders have in recent years been close to the Future Movement.

The sources said engagement between the party and the ISF had increased in recent days due to the police force’s decision to go after networks of “vandals” working for Israel. Hezbollah routinely accuses militant groups of inadvertently aiding Israel.

The visit also aimed at resolving a dispute between the ISF and elements of the Resistance Brigades, a quasi-militia with links to Hezbollah, which threatened to boil over into widespread clashes in Sidon where the group is based.

Members of the group have in the past clashed with forces loyal to the radical preacher Ahmad Assir, whose supporters later fought pitched battles with the Lebanese Army.

The sources said that Safa also delivered information about “elements” in Sidon that aimed to strike at the city’s stability by targeting the Army and officials here.

Hezbollah believes that Israel may seek to exploit these elements to sow problems in the south. The intelligence was delivered to Brig. Gen. Ali Shahrour, the chief of military intelligence in the south.

Safa also met with Osama Saad, the secretary-general of the Popular Nasserite Organization in Sidon, to warn him that Lebanon, and Sidon in particular, is likely to face renewed security threats and bombings.

Lebanon has endured a spate of bombings and suicide attacks in recent months linked to the crisis in Syria. The attacks have mostly targeted areas traditionally associated with Hezbollah.

Army checkpoints in Sidon have also been attacked.

Sources told The Daily Star that Safa stressed the need for unity among the Lebanese to combat future terrorist attacks and said that terrorist organizations may seek refuge in the large Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh.

Accusations have long been leveled that the camp is a haven for extremists, but Palestinian officials have repeatedly said that the security of the refugee camps is under control and that most militants emerge outside them.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 12, 2014, on page 3.
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Summary

A visit by a senior Hezbollah official has stoked fears that the party is worried about possible terror attacks in the south, political sources said Tuesday.

Wafiq Safa, Hezbollah's top security official, held several meetings with politicians and security officials in Sidon in the last couple of days, prompting questions about the impetus behind a visit by such a senior member of the party.

Political sources said Hezbollah was worried about attacks in south Lebanon, a concern that has risen with the increase in hostility between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over the latter's support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and disagreements between the March 8 and 14 political blocs over the Cabinet's policy statement.

The sources said Hezbollah disclosed intelligence related to possible security threats to officials in Sidon.

The attacks have mostly targeted areas traditionally associated with Hezbollah.


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