BEIRUT: Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn stood firm Monday on his statement that al-Qaida members were entering Lebanon under the guise of Syrian opposition activists, rejecting March 14 criticism that his remarks aimed to serve the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Ghosn called on all rival Lebanese factions to rally around the Lebanese Army to maintain the country’s security and stability, saying his information was not based on speculation.
Responding to the campaign launched by some March 14 politicians since his remarks on al-Qaida last week, Ghosn said in a statement: “What I have announced was not based on speculation, analysis and conclusions. It came as a result of information given to us which we deemed useful to tell the public about in an attempt to warn of its gravity to Lebanon, its security and stability and to place all [parties] before their national responsibilities.” He did not identify the source of his information.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri dismissed Ghosn’s statement that some al-Qaida members took shelter in Arsal. “There is only one al-Qaida. It is Bashar’s Shabbiha and killers,” Hariri told his supporters on the popular social networking website Twitter Monday night, referring to the Syrian president.Ghosn’s statement on the presence of al-Qaida members in the Bekaa town of Arsal drew fire from Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt.
Without naming Ghosn, Jumblatt said in his weekly article to be published by the PSP’s weekly newspaper Al-Anbaa Tuesday: “I wish that some official quarters would have some wisdom, rationality and prudence in dealing with sensitive security issues.
“These matters should not be addressed through political and media statements but rather through raising the level of security coordination between official Lebanese apparatuses, namely the Lebanese Army intelligence and [Internal Security Forces] Information Branch like what happened during the discovery of Israeli spy networks and the case of Fatah al-Islam,” Jumblatt added.
Ghosn, who belongs to the Marada Movement led by Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh, who is allied with the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, regretted March 14’s responses which, he said, portrayed his comments as if they were directed against a certain sect or aimed at discrediting the dignity of a Lebanese town by involving it in the issue of terrorism.
“We all know that the Lebanese, with all their different sects and affiliations, reject and fight terrorism because terrorism has no sect or religion. It is impossible [for terrorism] to find shelter in any Lebanese area or town,” Ghosn said in his statement carried by the state-run National News Agency.
Ministerial sources said the Cabinet would uphold at its meeting Wednesday Ghosn’s clarification on al-Qaida, while President Michel Sleiman would renew his confidence that the Lebanese, with their different sects and political tendencies, would not defend or accommodate terrorists in their land and houses. Prime Minister Najib Mikati will also renew the Cabinet’s support and confidence in the military establishment and measures it is taking to defend Lebanon, the sources said.
Last week, Ghosn said arms were being smuggled and “some terrorist members of the al-Qaida organization” entered Lebanon through some illegal crossings on the Lebanese-Syrian border, particularly Arsal, under the guise that they belong to the Syrian opposition. He said controlling these operations is the responsibility of the army and security forces, saying he will bring up this issue with the Cabinet and brief it on the information he has in this respect.
Ghosn’s statement has since come under fire from March 14 politicians who have accused him of seeking to serve the Assad regime which is facing serious challenges from a nine-month popular revolt.
Damascus has repeatedly claimed weapons have been smuggled into Syria from Lebanon in order the fuel the popular protests against the Assad regime.
Until recently, Syrian border crossings tended to occur in the Wadi Khaled district of Akkar, where refugees have been fleeing since the uprising began against the Assad government in mid-March.
But in the past few months attention has been focused on Arsal in the Bekaa, where there have been allegations of weapons being smuggled through the mountains that mark the border in east Lebanon.
In his statement Monday, Ghosn called on his critics “to stop their attempts aimed at shattering [the government’s] confidence with the residents in the Arsal area or any other Lebanese area for political purposes which are known to everyone.”
The minister said the Lebanese Army and security forces were doing their jobs perfectly.
Ghosn added that his statement on al-Qaida should constitute “an incentive for all [parties] to rally around the army and support it in what it is doing, especially since the protection of the Lebanese arena is the responsibility of every Lebanese citizen who is keen on the security and stability of this country.”
Sleiman said Lebanon and the Lebanese are against terrorism.
Asked whether al-Qaida members had really crossed from Lebanon into Syria, Sleiman told reporters, after holding a closed-door meeting with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki to congratulate him on Christmas Day Sunday: “Lebanon is against terrorism. Lebanon is the country that paid most for fighting terrorism. This should be mentioned in its record. I am sure that any Lebanese and any Lebanese town will not accept to harbor terrorism. All are cooperating with the state to prevent terrorism from striking or harboring terrorists.”
Akkar MP Khaled Daher from Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc rejected Ghosn’s statement on the presence of al-Qaida members in Arsal. He said Ghosn’s statement lacked “credibility and proof” and served the Syrian interest.
In a TV interview, Daher expressed regret that Ghosn and some government officials prefer “the interests of the Syrian regime at Lebanon’s expense.” He said Sleiman’s statement on terrorism contradicted Ghosn’s remarks which reflected “a lack of responsibility and disregard of the country’s interest.”
Another Akkar Future MP Mouin Merhebi called on the government to disavow Ghosn’s statement on the presence of al-Qaida members in Arsal.
“Ghosn’s statement originated from the Syrian regime which brought him and brought this government. Also, President Michel Sleiman’s remarks yesterday were contrary to Ghosn’s statement which reflected a big disarray inside the March 8 camp,” Merhebi told Future News television.