BEIRUT: Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi urged the country's political leaders to prevail upon gunmen to withdraw from the streets of Tripoli Friday, a week after deadly fighting in the northern city left 11 people killed.
“An important task must be performed by politicians, especially those who have influence over the gunmen ... more than half of the gunmen in Tripoli belong to politicians,” Kahwagi said in remarks published Friday in As-Safir.
“It is these politicians’ responsibility to pull out [the gunmen] and take the initiative to tone down the political rhetoric for the sake of stability and security,” he added.
Kahwagi also called on Tripoli residents to “cooperate” with Lebanese Army units that deployed in the city Tuesday and warned, “Harming the military’s dignity is forbidden.”
"If the Army’s dignity is harmed, there will be nothing left of the military establishment,” Kahwagi said, while stressing that the Army does not take either side in the dispute.
At least 11 people have been killed since clashes erupted Saturday in Tripoli, where sectarian tension has been simmering over the 15-month-old popular upheaval against the Assad regime.
While residents in Tripoli’s Bab al-Tabbaneh support the Syrian revolution, citizens in nearby Jabal Mohsen back the Assad government.
The tension exploded into violence Saturday, as gunbattles broke out following the arrest of Shadi Mawlawi, an Islamist, on charges of maintaining ties to a “terrorist group.” Mawlawi and his supporters deny that he is affiliated with any such group and maintain that his activities consist of aiding Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr charged Mawlawi and five other unidentified suspects with “belonging to an armed terrorist organization intending to carry out crimes against people as well as public and private institutions.” The suspects were also accused of “undermining sate authority and plotting to carry out terrorist acts inside and outside of Lebanon.”
However, after an uproar over the questionable manner in which Mawlawi was arrested, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel intervened in the matter, promising that Mawlawi would be questioned again, this time in the presence of his lawyers.
Military investigation Judge Nabil Wehbi requested the release of Islamist Shadi Mawlawi after re-questioning him in the presence of his lawyers.
Wehbi referred the release request to Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr, whose decision is expected to be issued Friday.