BEIRUT: The trials of Islamists held in Roumieh Prison will speed up, the interior minister said Sunday, following the beheading of a second Army solider late Saturday and renewed clashes on the outskirts of Arsal.
The interior minister also said that any security defect that results from an increase of Syrian refugees in the country would prompt him to propose the closure of Lebanon’s border with Syria to Cabinet.
“The latest incidents will contribute to speeding up the trials of detained Islamists in Roumieh prison,” Nouhad Machnouk said in an interview with the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
The Nusra Front and ISIS militants, who took at least 29 military and police captive after clashes in Arsal last month, have demanded the release of Islamists detained in Roumieh Prison in return for their release. However, the government has repeatedly refused to consider any kind of trade with the militants.
According to judicial sources, the government is working through the Justice Ministry with the judiciary to find “a legal and judicial solution” for the cases of 94 Islamist detainees held in Roumieh prison since 2007.
Speaking on tensions with Syrian refugees, Machnouk said that “the critical point is distancing Syrian refugees from Arsal and transporting them to a specific point either within Lebanese territory or in any other place.”
“There are 1400 unofficial refugee camps and we don’t know the extent of their violation of the law,” he said.
“Lebanon can’t accommodate this many Syrian refugee in light of the danger this immigration is posing.”
The minister has also cancelled a planned trip to Doha in light of current security concerns.
Machnouk's trip to Qatar, to attend a conference with his counterparts from other Arab states, was also allegedly tied to the Qatari mediation over the hostage crisis, after a Qatari delegation met with both the Nusra Front and ISIS commanders Friday, in a bid to negotiate the release of the captives.
Speaking on Qatari mediation efforts, Machnouk said that “Lebanon did not choose Qatar for negotiations.”
“But the Prime Minister contacted some states, some of which expressed their readiness to assist while others just expressed their sympathy.”
On Sunday, Prime Minister Tammam Salam called for a meeting of the emergency ministerial committee tasked with overseeing the case of the military and police hostages.
The meeting is set to take place at 3 p.m. in the Grand Serail, and Salam is due to deliver a televised speech at 8 p.m.
An ISIS commander told the Turkish news agency Anadolu Saturday, that the group had beheaded a second Lebanese soldier, blaming it on an escape attempt by the captive.
"Yes, we slaughtered Lebanese soldier Abbas Medlej because he attempted to escape," the ISIS leader told Anadolu.
A military source would not confirm the identity of the solider and told The Daily Star that the Lebanese Army was investigating graphic pictures of the decapitation that were circulating on social media outlets.
Local mediator Sheikh Mustafa Hujeiri confirmed to The Daily Star that "it is true that Medlej was killed.”
Earlier this week, Lebanon laid First Sgt. Ali Sayyed to rest, the first soldier beheaded by ISIS.
Sayyed and Medlej were captured along with at least 29 of their colleagues from the Lebanese Army and the Internal Security Forces during clashes with jihadists from ISIS and the Nusra Front in the northeastern town of Arsal.