BEIRUT: The government is following up on the case of the Lebanese fighters who were killed in Syria, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Saturday, as Muslim scholars urged north Lebanon residents not to join the fighting in its neighbor.
"We are trying to get information and what is available to us now is that there were some Lebanese who were killed, some kidnapped and others who escaped," Charbel told The Daily Star, quoting an official security report he received.
"But we cannot determine the exact number that were killed," he added.
A Lebanese security source told The Daily Star Friday at least 20 Lebanese fighters from the northern city of Tripoli were killed in an ambush by the Syrian army in the town of Tal Kalakh.
However, there have been conflicting reports about the exact number of Lebanese who were killed in Tal Kalakh, which lies some 5 kilometers from the border with Lebanon.
Some residents in Tripoli, where most of the fighters hail from, said Saturday they had managed to get in contact with their loved ones and that the total number of fatalities may have declined.
The interior minister could only confirm that three people were killed in the ambush and said two were kidnapped while four were missing.
"The picture is still unclear,” he said.
“We need at least 24 hours to understand what happened," he added.
The Lebanese official also appealed to Lebanese “not to implicate the country in the Syrian crisis."
In the wake of the uprising in Syria, Lebanese leaders agreed during a National Dialogue session in mid-2012 to keep Lebanon neutral from developments surrounding it, particularly in its Arab neighbor. The Lebanese government has also adopted a policy of disassociation toward events in Syria, where battles rage between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and the Syrian rebels.
Tensions ran high for a second day in Tripoli following news of the death of the Lebanese fighters and the military maintained its upgraded presence in the port city where clashes have repeatedly flared between supporters and opponents of Assad.
Commenting on the news of the Lebanese deaths in Syria, Future Movement and Douniyeh MP Ahmad Fatfat described the men as "martyrs" but blamed the government for not sealing off the poorly demarcated border between the two countries.
"There are enthusiastic young men willing to fight for a cause they believe in and of course they are martyrs. This is why we have asked for the borders to be completely closed," Fatfat told The Daily Star.
He added that his party, which enjoys large support in Tripoli, was against intervening in Syria militarily.
He also said that the government should do more to protect the border.
Meanwhile, the Committee of Muslim Scholars urged young men in north Lebanon not join the fighting in Syria.
“We ask young men in the north not to listen to the voices that ask them to join the fighting in Syria because it is not right in terms of the principles of Sharia,” the committee said in a statement.
“The responsibility for the death of the young men who were killed in Tal Kalakh falls with the person who sent them to the wrong place because our enemy and the enemy of Lebanon and peace is Israel,” it added.