Lebanon News

Army reopens blocked Arsal road after protests

Lebanese soldiers are seen on an armored personnel carrier on the road leading to Arsal in northeast Lebanon Wednesday March 19, 2014. (The Daily Star/Nidal Solh)

BEIRUT: The Army Wednesday reopened the only road to the Bekaa Valley border town of Arsal, which is accused of harboring Syrian rebels, after nighttime protests forced the closure of several major highways in Beirut as well as east, north and south Lebanon in support of the mainly Sunni town.

Residents from the predominantly Shiite neighboring town of Labweh had sealed off the main road out of Arsal with a sand barrier after one person was killed by rocket fire allegedly coming from the direction of the Sunni town.

The closure sparked protests by angry Sunnis, who took to the streets in Taanayel, Jdita and Saadnayel in the Bekaa Valley, blocking major highways with burning tires.

Similar protests also saw the closures of the Beirut thoroughfares of Corniche al-Mazraa, Cola and Qasqas as well as the coastal highway connecting the capital to the south and key roads in the northern Akkar region.

Policemen teamed up with soldiers Wednesday to beef up security in Arsal after residents protested the so-called ''siege" imposed by Labweh residents who claim Arsal has turned into a safe haven for Syrian militants.

Security forces found a warm welcome as they reached Arsal Wednesday morning and the town's Mayor, Ali Hujeiri, slaughtered sheep to honor them.

Hujeiri and a delegation of town officials took law enforcement officers on a tour of Arsal before soldiers began patrolling the streets alongside police.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said he planned to deploy backup police forces to enhance security and stability in Arsal, home to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees.

“I decided to dispatch 40 police members to beef up Internal Security Forces [already deployed] in Arsal,” Machnouk said in remarks published Wednesday.

“The police force will commence work today [Wednesday],” he told the local daily An-Nahar.

Machnouk said the road to Arsal, which connects the town to the rest of Lebanon, would reopen Wednesday.

Officials struggled Tuesday to contain the unrest after one person was killed as angry protesters blocked key highways across Lebanon in support of Arsal.

All roads blocked Tuesday evening were reopened.

An-Nahar quoted sources at the Interior Ministry as saying that Machnouk urged Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwaji in a telephone call to instruct the Military Police to investigate the Qasqas shooting that left Husam al-Shawwa dead.

“Let the perpetrators, whoever they were, take responsibility,” it quoted Machnouk as saying.

Meanwhile, President Michel Sleiman chaired a high-level meeting which focused on the country’s security situation mainly in Arsal and the northern city of Tripoli, which has seen renewed clashes linked to the crisis in next-door Syria.

The meeting held at Baabda Palace was attended by Prime Minister Tammam Salam and the country’s top military and security leaders.

Salam said the conferees decided to call a meeting of the Higher Defense Council to discuss a security plan “to address the concerns and restore state prestige.”





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