BEIRUT: More than 1,000 people gathered in Downtown Beirut Thursday to honor the Army’s former Commando Regiment chief Brig. Gen. Shamel Roukoz for his distinguished military service as he went into retirement.
“I was an officer in the commando’s regiment and only a few hours ago I was promoted to rank of citizen, and I will not retire from my duties, because [my] love for the nation doesn’t come with an Army suit or a portfolio,” Roukoz told a cheering crowd at Martyrs' Square.
People signed a large Lebanese Army flag which they presented to Roukoz as he posed for photos with his supporters.
Many said they traveled from far away villages to pay tribute to the "hero."
Roukoz will be succeeded by Col. Maroun al-Qobayati, who was the regiment’s deputy chief and its First Brigade Commander.
Born in 1961 in the north Lebanon town of Hamat, Roukoz took part in many battles throughout Lebanon’s recent history, from the Liberation War fought between the Lebanese and Syrian armies in 1989, up to the Arsal battle against ISIS and the Nusra Front in 2014.
Roukoz first grew to prominence during the more than three-month-long battle fought between the Lebanese Army and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Fatah al-Islam group in the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in 2007.
At the time he served as an officer in the Commando Regiment, led by Francois al-Hajj, who was assassinated later that year.
Nearly 170 soldiers and more than 130 militants were killed during the battle, which completely destroyed the camp.
Roukoz also played an important role during the June 2013 Abra battle which pit the Army against militants loyal to radical sheikh Ahmad al-Assir. Eighteen soldiers and about 40 Assir supporters were killed during the two-day battle.
He also led the battle against ISIS and the Nusra Front during the militants' brief takeover of the northeastern border town of Arsal, during which nearly 40 Lebanese servicemen were kidnapped. Twenty soldiers and at least 60 militants were killed during that battle.
Roukoz, who is the son-in-law of Change and Reform Bloc leader Michel Aoun, has been under the spotlight in recent weeks amid the political crisis the country has been facing since the paralysis of Cabinet.
Aoun had been pushing for Roukoz to take over command of the military, but current Army chief Gen. Jean Kahwagi had his term extended by Defense Minister Samir Moqbel in August.
Aoun considers the extension illegal, and his party, the Free Patriotic Movement, have held several street demonstrations demanding the Army head and Military Council be replaced, deeming them “expired” during a recent television interview.