BEIRUT: National unity is a must to fight takfiri terrorism threatening Lebanon, said Speaker Nabih Berri, who also called Sunday for bolstering the Lebanese Army’s capabilities in term of men and equipment to help it in the anti-terror battle.
In a televised speech broadcast simultaneously on all local TV stations Sunday night, marking the 36th anniversary of the disappearance of Shiite spiritual leader Imam Musa Sadr in Libya, Berri said priority should be given to the election of a new president, stressing that the country could not be run without a head of state.
“National unity now constitutes a national necessity to fight terrorism as it was our weapon in confronting the Israeli aggression in 2006. Confronting terrorism is not merely a security and military issue,” Berri said.
“Confronting takfiri terrorism is not the responsibility of the Sunnis in Lebanon, as confronting the Israeli aggression is not the responsibility of the Shiites. Also, confronting the displacement of minorities is not the responsibility of the Christians,” he said. “Confronting terrorism and [Israeli] aggression is a joint national responsibility.”
Berri’s remarks come after militants from ISIS and Syria’s Al-Qadea-linked Nusra Front overran the northeastern town of Arsal on Aug. 2 and fought pitched gunbattles with the Lebanese Army, in the most serious spillover of the war in Syria into Lebanese territory.
At least 19 soldiers were killed in five days of fighting between the Lebanese Army and ISIS and Nusra Front gunmen. At least 29 soldiers and policemen were taken captive and 23 remain in captivity, after Nusra Front released four soldiers and a policeman Saturday.
Berri criticized what he called “suspicious international silence” on the proliferation of terrorist and takfiri movements in the region and the delay in adopting a U.N. resolution against these movements.
Declaring that Lebanon, Syria and Jordan faced the threat of terrorism, he called for U.N. resolutions to defend the countries’ sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of their peoples.
Berri underlined the need to shore up the Lebanese Army’s capabilities by increasing the number of soldiers and the amount of equipment, making use of last year’s $3 billion grant from Saudi Arabia, and another $1 billion from Riyadh last month.
Referring to the political deadlock that has left Lebanon without a president for more than three months, Berri said: “Holding the presidential election will remain at the top of priorities because the state cannot be run without a head. A new chapter for the country and citizens will begin with the election of a president. Holding the presidential election will reflect the strength of our unity.”
He said the presidential election would clear the way for parliamentary elections, scheduled for Nov. 20. “This will unleash a political process, which we need to face across the border terrorism that has knocked on our doors in the form of [Syrian] refugees, bombings or small wars,” Berri said.
Referring to several rounds of failed National Dialogue among rival political leaders to adopt a national defense strategy, he said the threats posed to Lebanon by Israel and takfiri terrorism had made an agreement on defense strategy imperative.
Berri sounded upbeat about Lebanon’s future. “There is no fear about this country and Lebanon will remain a garden of freedom,” he said. “ Lebanon is a mirror of the Levant and it should be the protector of coexistence.”
Sadr, founder of the Amal Movement now led by Berri, went missing along with two companions during a visit to Libya on Aug. 31, 1978. His disappearance caused a rift between Lebanon and the regime of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, which denied any involvement, maintaining that Sadr had left Libya for Italy.