BEIRUT: Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi reiterated Wednesday that there would be no compromise over bringing those who killed two soldiers in Arsal last week to justice, describing the crime as totally unjustifiable.
“We will not remain silent or show leniency. We only want our universal right,” he said, addressing the family of late Sgt. Ibrahim Zahraman during a visit to Akkar to offer his condolences.
Zahraman was killed last week along with Capt. Pierre Bashaalani after being trapped in an ambush in the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal Friday. The Lebanese Army patrol was attacked after taking part in an operation to arrest fugitive Khaled Hmayyed, a resident of Arsal, who was killed during the operation.
“The reaction is not justifiable because Army personnel were carrying out a military operation, when they were assaulted and ambushed,” Kahwagi explained.“What happened was purely a military operation that didn’t include any other group.”
Kahwagi promised that the perpetrators would be apprehended in order for justice to be fully served.
For his part, Prime Minister Najib Mikati restated his support for the Army and called on all groups to cooperate so the suspects can be handed over to proper authorities.
“We reiterate our strong condemnation of the attack and we stand side by the side with the Lebanese Army during this painful ordeal,” Mikati said while addressing ministers during a Cabinet session he chaired at the Grand Serail.
“We call on everybody to cooperate so that the suspects are handed over and the necessary judicial investigation is finalized ... We should avoid the generalizations directed at the people of Arsal,” he added.
Mikati said the attack on the Army constituted an unacceptable aggression against the authority of the state and the rule of law.
“We call on everybody to contribute to defusing tension that could have negative repercussions on the situation in Lebanon, particularly during these difficult regional circumstances.”
A heated argument broke out between March 8 ministers and representatives of Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party over the Arsal incident during the Cabinet session. According to The Daily Star’s sources, PSP ministers called for extending the authority of the Army across all parts of the country, and not just Arsal.
Asked whether the Cabinet took any decision with regard to Arsal, Information Minister Walid Daouk told reporters that all ministers expressed solidarity with the Army.
“That’s why there was no need to make a decision, because there is consensus over this issue,” he said.
Signs of disagreement over the Arsal clash had emerged prior to the Cabinet session. As Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn told reporters that the Cabinet should provide the political cover for the Army to take the necessary measures in the town, Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour said the Army already enjoyed the necessary political support.
“There is a large list of wanted suspects in Arsal and the Cabinet should provide the necessary political cover for the Army to take the necessary measures in the town,” Ghosn said.
Heads of security bodies discussed measures taken in Arsal during a meeting at the office of the head of General Security, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim.
A tense calm was evident in Arsal as the Army continued to maintain a tight seal on the town for the sixth day, searching people entering and leaving the town and examining their IDs.
A statement by the residents of Arsal condemned any attack against the Army but also blasted what it called the “execution” of Hmayyed.
“[Arsal’s] residents stress that there was no arrest warrant against Khaled Hmayyed nor was he sentenced to death, [as a result] we strongly condemn his illegal and inhumane assassination,” the statement said.
The statement added that the reaction of Arsal’s residents was not planned ahead of time but was a “a reaction to an ugly assassination.” The residents also demanded a transparent investigation into the incident.
School students from Arsal and the village of Fakiha distributed flowers to Army soldiers for the second time while hundreds of local residents gathered in Arsal’s main square demanding the removal of a checkpoint at the entrance of the town.
Future Movement MP Nuhad Mashnouq, speaking to Future TV, repeated his party’s demand that a committee be formed to investigate the incident.
The British Embassy said in a statement that Ambassador Tom Fletcher conveyed the condolences of the British government to Kahwagi in a letter.
“They gave their lives in the service of their country ... their loss will only strengthen the resolve to defeat lawlessness in all its forms ... I fully support President Sleiman’s declaration that the ‘state and the army must come first,’ and we hope that justice will be served and the criminals arrested,” Fletcher said.
In a statement after its weekly meeting, the March 14 General Secretariat called for arresting the perpetrators and for the judiciary to carry out a transparent investigation into the attack.