ARSAL, Lebanon: Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya said Saturday the recent deaths of two soldiers in Arsal, east Lebanon, was due to an “unsuccessful” Lebanese Army operation and urged authorities to clarify the circumstances surrounding the death of the wanted man who the military was pursuing at the time.
Also Saturday, the head of the Future parliamentary bloc, MP Fouad Siniora, met with a delegation from the eastern border town of Arsal that included religious figures.
“It is obvious that what happened was an unsuccessful security operation and there are people behind this failure,” Ali Abu Yassine, head of the political bureau of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, told reporters during a news conference in Arsal.
“We have asked officials to launch a fair and transparent investigation to uncover who was involved and what happened in the town,” he added.
Earlier Saturday, a delegation from Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya visited the town and met with dignitaries there including Mohammad Hujeiri, the mayor of Arsal.
The party’s visit comes days after MP Imad al-Hout, who heads the political group, met with Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi to offer condolences over the death of two soldiers who were killed in the Arsal incident.
Last week, the Army said Sergeant Ibrahim Zahraman, 32, and Captain Pierre Bashalani, 31, were killed in an ambush set up by gunmen in Arsal in what appeared to be a retaliatory operation against the Army after Military Intelligence personnel detained Khaled Hmayyed.
Hmayyed, according to the head of the Military Intelligence Brig. Gen. Edmond Fadel, was wanted on several terror charges and a member of Al-Nusra Front, an Islamist group fighting alongside the rebels in Syria and affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
The incident sent shockwaves across the country as gruesome details about the ambush was revealed.
Fadel has said that the gunmen drove the wounded men to the headquarters of Arsal Municipality where they were beaten. The bodies of the two dead soldiers were also put on display in celebration.
Hours after Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya met with Arsal figures, LBCI broadcast amateur video footage that it obtained allegedly showing the soldiers being carried by members of the Lebanese Red Cross into ambulances.
Although some Arsal residents have claimed the Army unit wore civilian uniform, the same media outlet has broadcast pictures of the soldiers at the municipality in their military uniform.
Fadel said last week only two members of the Army unit apprehending Hmayyed wore civilian attire.
During his news conference Saturday, Yassine, who said his party came to express solidarity with the eastern town, said: “What happened in Arsal was not an armed ambush but a reaction to the killing of a victim [Hmayyed] in a strange and deplorable manner.”
“If the residents of Arsal knew that the group belonged to the Lebanese Army, what happened wouldn't have occurred.
“But we heard many officials saying they were grateful to the residents for saving the lives of the rest of the group and secured their safety by taking them to hospitals,” he added.
Yassine also said his party wanted to get to the truth behind Hmayyed’s killing, which he described as an “execution.”
"We are here to tell Arsal that it is not alone but it is closer to Beirut than Beirut itself,” he added.
He also called on the Lebanese Army to “lift the blockade of the town and this is a security blockade that might deteriorate the situation lead to unbearable consequences.”
The military has deployed additional personnel including an elite unit and set up several checkpoints around the town to apprehend suspects involved in the ambush.
Meanwhile, Hujeiri defended Saturday Arsal residents saying: “if the residents of Arsal made a mistake then they should be held responsible but if they did not then we ask that they be treated fairly by the Army.”
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Friday he was willing to offer the military anything it required in its investigation including lifting immunity from Hujeiri if need be.
During his meeting with a delegation from Arsal, Siniora urged the figures to remain supporting the Army given the regional turmoil.
“[Former] Prime Minister Siniora asked us to continue with our support to the state and Army, particularly that Lebanon and the region are going through a difficult phase,” Sheikh Sameeh Ezzeddine told reporters after the meeting in Beirut.
The case of Arsal has been referred to the military tribunal to begin its probe under Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr.