BEIRUT: Gen. Jean Kahwagi said Thursday that the Army could crush armed elements on the street should the political situation in the country be made conducive to such an undertaking, and added that the military would not allow any political party to blackmail it on any issue.
Speaking at a ceremony honoring retired officers in Yarze, the head of the Lebanese Army issued a stern warning.
“The Army has informed all political parties of its ability to settle issues and deliver debilitating blows to all gunmen regardless of the party they belong to, on condition that [these parties] lift the cover they are providing [the gunmen] through clear media pronouncements that are free of duplicity.”
Kahwagi was referring to events in north Lebanon, where weeklong clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad left at least 16 dead and over 120 wounded, including 11 soldiers.
Rival figures in the northern city of Tripoli agreed to a ceasefire last week and asked the Army to deploy heavily in the area and crack down on violators in order to restore order.
As part of its security plan for the city, the Army detained 18 people on suspicion of involvement in the clashes. It also raided several safe houses, seizing weapons and ammunition.
Referring to the events in Tripoli, Kahwagi said that the Army’s initiative in launching communication between rival groups and bridging gaps between them is a means to resolve the standoff in the city.
He also hit back at his critics for fostering what he described as a “hostile environment” toward the Army.
“The Army's keenness on an environment of freedom in Lebanon does not mean accepting the exploitation of this principle and hiding behind it to promote destructive ideas and create a hostile environment toward the Army and constitutional institutions,” he said.
Kahwagi was recently subjected to a withering attack by Future Movement MP Mouein Merhebi, who accused him of taking advantage of his military rank to position himself for the country’s presidency. The Akkar MP also called Kahwagi a “failure” and deemed him “responsible for civil strife in the country.”
In response, the Army filed a complaint against the parliamentarian via the Defense Ministry. The complaint accuses Merhebi of slandering and defaming the Army and its command.
“The Army will not allow any political party to blackmail it on any issue,” Kahwagi declared.
In his speech, Kahwagi also said that the military is committed to preventing its border with Syria “from becoming a passage for sedition” in either direction, and that it will thwart attempts to establish a buffer zone.
“The Army is working at both ends [of Lebanon] to save the country, whether via its readiness on the southern border to face potential aggression by Israel and preserve Lebanon's legitimate rights in its regional waters and the special economic zone, or through controlling security on the Lebanese-Syrian border,” he said.