BEIRUT: In a stern warning against attempts to undermine security, Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi said Thursday that the Army was capable of crushing gunmen on the street if political parties ended their support for them. Kahwagi also said that the military would not allow any political party to blackmail it on any issue.
“The Army has informed all political parties of its ability to nip problems in the bud and deliver severe and costly blows to all gunmen regardless of the party they belong to, provided that [these parties] lift their cover for these gunmen through clear media declarations,” Kahwagi said in a speech at a ceremony honoring retired officers at the Defense Ministry in Yarze.
“The Army is committed to the implementation of its military plan in the interior. Despite its modest capabilities, it is trying to control the border crossings [with Syria] and not to allow them to be used as a conduit for strife from and to Lebanon,” he said.
“Therefore, the Army will not allow the presence of security zones and buffer zones outside state authority that would portray Lebanon as a party in a conflict which it is trying hard to avoid,” Kahwagi added.
His remarks came as the Army deployed heavily in the northern city of Tripoli last week to end five days of deadly clashes between pro- and anti-Assad factions that have left 17 people dead and over 120 wounded, including 11 soldiers.
The fighting, viewed as a spillover of the 17-month turmoil in Syria into Lebanon, pitted gunmen in the anti-Assad Sunni dominant Bab al-Tabbaneh district against rivals in the pro-Assad mainly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen in Tripoli.
As part of its measures to restore law and order to Tripoli, the Army detained 18 gunmen on suspicion of involvement in the clashes and seized arms and ammunition in Al-Zahriyeh neighborhood, which is adjacent to Bab al-Tabbaneh.
Seven of the 18 gunmen are expected to be referred to the Military Tribunal in the next 24 hours for trial, while the others were released.
Referring to the clashes in Tripoli, Kahwagi said that the Army’s initiative in launching communications between rival groups was part of its role to maintain security in the city and prevent “regional strife from infiltrating into our cities and villages.”
He also hit back at critics of the Army’s role for fostering what he described as a “hostile environment” toward the Army.
“The Army will not allow any political party to blackmail it on any issue. At the same time, it is keen on maintaining good relations with all political parties out of its belief in plurality in Lebanon,” Kahwagi said.
“The Army is trying at this critical juncture to be up to the challenges. Unfortunately, its dealing wisely with security incidents, including the kidnappings, the blocking of roads and the explosive situation in Tripoli, was seen by some as a weakness and they tried to target the [military] establishment,” he said.He added the Army’s concern for a climate of freedom in Lebanon, particularly freedom of expression, did not mean accepting the exploitation of this situation by some “to promote destructive ideas and create a hostile environment toward the Army and constitutional institutions.”
“The Army from now on will not keep silent on attempts to target it or slander it in words or deeds by any party,” he said.