BEIRUT: Caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn and Army representatives were no-shows Thursday for a session of Parliament’s Defense Committee, which had been scheduled to seek out clarifications over Hezbollah’s involvement in last month’s deadly clashes in the Sidon suburb of Abra. The defense minister and the Army representatives were expected to clarify at the meeting reports of misbehavior on the part of soldiers after the clashes.
Speaking to reporters after the session, Tripoli MP Samir Jisr, the chair of the committee, said he would ask Speaker Nabih Berri to call on Ghosn to attend the session if the latter had no excuse for not showing up, in line with Articles 31 and 32 of Parliament’s bylaws.
“I will try to telephone the caretaker minister to determine whether he had an excuse for the absence or if he just didn’t want to come,” Jisr said.
Ghosn could not be reached by The Daily Star and an Army source had no information about the matter.
March 8 MPs Emile Rahme and Qassem Hashem said that committee members were also entitled to ask the speaker to call on the caretaker defense minister to attend the session.
Future Movement MPs said they provided Jisr with video footage that proved Hezbollah’s participation in the Sidon battles, meant to be viewed during the committee session.
“Some of the footage was supposed to be shown along with reports circulated by media outlets about the battles and the events that followed, with the hope that Defense Ministry representatives could provide clarifications immediately or do so at a later session, if time was needed to examine the materials,” Jisr added.
At least 18 soldiers and 28 gunmen were killed during the clashes between the Army and gunmen of firebrand Sheikh Ahmad Assir.
The Future Movement claims that Hezbollah had participated in the clashes and requested that the Army clarify the matter.
Hezbollah and the Army have denied the allegations.
During a committee session last week, the Army presented video footage purporting to show Assir ordering the attack on the military from his complex in Abra.
“The footage presented indicated that Assir’s gunmen opened fire first ... I repeat that this was based on the footage provided, but we were not presented with all of it,” Jisr said.
Jisr said the committee required clarification over the soldiers’ conduct, stressing that the Future Movement, of which he is a member, had no intention of discrediting the Army.
“We are in a democratic country. No one is above being held accountable – not the president nor the speaker and the prime minister, ministers and MPs,” he said.
“We have to differentiate between the institution and the behavior of its members. No one in Lebanon ... can accept doing away with the Army. Our remarks and questions are about its soldiers,” he said.
Jisr said he received notice that Ghosn would not attend the session two hours before it was to begin.
“I fulfilled my duty as the chair of Parliament’s Defense, Interior and Municipalities Committee and called the caretaker defense minister three times. He didn’t pick up the first time and turned off his phone the two other times,” Jisr said.
“I have two questions in mind. Does [Defense Minister Ghosn] have information he does not want us to know? Did [he] not attend the session at the behest of some colleagues?” Jisr asked.
Separately, First Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghayda interrogated six detainees over the Abra clashes and issued arrest warrants against five of them. He ordered the release of the sixth prisoner.