BEIRUT: The head of Lebanon’s General Security is in Syria to negotiate the transfer of Lebanese fighters who were recently killed in an ambush by the Syrian army, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Saturday.
“Gen. Abbas Ibrahim is in Syria to discuss with authorities the transfer of the bodies of the men slain in Tal Kalakh,” Charbel, referring to the place where the group of Lebanese was ambushed last week, told reporters in Tripoli, north Lebanon.
Last week reports emerged that a group of Salafist fighters from Tripoli were killed in a Syrian army ambush in the town of Tal Kalakh near the border with Lebanon. But there have been conflicting reports on the exact number of men who were killed.
Charbel said Saturday that according to available information 16 members of the Islamist group were killed.
“The Syrian authorities said there are 16 bodies of men killed in Tal Kalakh,” he said.
Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s General Security, was tasked Friday by Prime Minister Najib Mikati to follow up on the process of retrieving the bodies of the Islamists.
Charbel said Friday that Ibrahim was also negotiating to bring back home any of the fighters that might have survived the ambush.
“Ibrahim is trying to find out the fate of the remaining fighters and if some are still alive then he will try to bring them back to Lebanon,” Charbel said.
Charbel spoke after heading a security meeting in the Lebanese port city, where recent clashes between supporters and detractors of President Bashar Assad have claimed the lives of 13 people and led to the wounding of dozens more.
The interior minister expressed hope that the security meeting he held would represent the beginning of measures to put an end to the violence in the city and as a precursor for the rival sides to hold talks.
“I hope that today's security meeting will be the start to decisive measures in the city and will be a precursor to a meeting between the bickering parties in the city,” Charbel said.
He added that no political side was providing cover for the fighters in Tripoli and that no one had emerged victorious in the fighting.
“No political side has any interest in backing armed clashes in the city,” said Charbel.
The renewed violence in Tripoli is the seventh round of fighting to erupt between the neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh, where there is strong support for the uprising in Syria, and Jabal Mohsen, residents of which support Assad.
Later Saturday, Charbel attended a meeting held at the residence of Future MP Samir al-Jisr, in the presence of Tripoli lawmakers and a number of dignitaries.
Following the discussions, the gathering issued a statement urging the state to resolve the situation in Tripoli in a manner fair to all its residents.
“There is no alternative to the state for all people ... the state has to impose the law in all regions without discrimination,” said Jisr, reading a statement.
The precarious truce that emerged overnight Friday in the city continued Saturday, despite the sound of some sniping activity in the area.
Tensions had already been running high in Lebanon’s second city over the case of the slain Islamist fighters.
Syria’s Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali said earlier in the week that Damascus would start handing the bodies to Lebanese authorities Saturday, in three rounds over a period of one week.
However, a security source who requested to remain anonymous told The Daily Star Friday that it was unlikely that the transfer would take place as announced.
Following the security meeting in Tripoli, Charbel could not confirm whether the bodies would be brought back home as had been announced and said the Cabinet was negotiating to secure the return of the bodies in one batch.
“That doesn’t mean the bodies will not be brought back today. We are waiting for the outcome of Ibrahim’s negotiations with Syrian authorities,” Charbel told the media in Tripoli.
Meanwhile, Mikati held talks with the head of the Higher Lebanese-Syrian Council Nasri Khoury at the Grand Serail, according to a statement from the prime minister's office.
Khoury, according to the statement, said he had no information about when the bodies would be returned to Lebanon.
The U.S. embassy in Beirut expressed Friday its concerns over the security situation in Tripoli and the possibility of sparking clashes in Beirut’s Tariq al-Jadideh.
“The U.S. is deeply concerned with the continued violence in Tripoli and attempts to spark violence in Beirut’s Tariq al-Jadideh,” the embassy said in a Twitter post.
The U.S. also commended the cooperation between Lebanon’s different security agencies to maintain calm in the country and urged all parties to exercise restraint.
“The U.S. commends LAF [Lebanese Army] and ISF [Internal Security Forces] efforts to work together and maintain calm in Lebanon,” it said.
“We call on all parties to exercise restraint and respect for Lebanon’s stability and security,” the embassy said.