BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati asked Syria’s ambassador Monday to relay to Damascus objections over the Syrian army’s shelling of Lebanese border towns, as Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi denied any shelling had taken place.
Mikati asked Ambassador Michel Khoury in a meeting at the Grand Serail to send a letter to Syria’s Foreign Ministry to complain about “the continuous shelling of Lebanese border towns from nearby Syrian military bases.”
At least 25 shells fired by the Syrian army struck the mainly Christian village of Menjez Friday, wounding one person and damaging homes.
Hundreds of residents of Menjez fled their homes in search of sanctuary, a scene repeated over the next few days in other Akkar villages that witnessed severe shelling.
Zoabi told reporters in Damascus Monday that the Syrian army has had no part in any shelling of Lebanese border villages and has no intentions whatsoever to interfere in Lebanon.
The Syrian minister described as “political comedy” calls from countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council for Lebanon to stay away from the crisis in Syria.
“If the Qataris and Saudis do not want to take the crisis to Lebanon, they should stop sending arms and militants and funding terrorists there,” he said.
In July, President Michel Sleiman accused Syria of violating Lebanese territory after a house in a village in the east of the country was hit by a shell, with several more falling along the northern border.
The president instructed Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour to lodge a complaint with the Syrian ambassador in Lebanon over the issue.
Meanwhile, a report by Al-Jadeed television said Sleiman met with the Syrian delegation on the sidelines of last week’s Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran.
The report said the Syrian delegation was “pleasant and diplomatic,” adding that Sleiman repeated his demand that Syrian President Bashar Assad contact him to explain his stance on Damascus’ alleged involvement in a terror plot in Lebanon.
Former Lebanese Information Minister Michel Samaha, who was arrested last month for allegedly planning killings and bombings in Lebanon, has reportedly confessed to investigators that he was acting on the orders of Assad and a high-ranking Syrian general.
March 14 coalition MPs intend to submit a memo this week to Sleiman calling for the deployment of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon on the northern border.
Aref al-Abed, an adviser to former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, told The Daily Star that the coalition is currently preparing a petition to Sleiman detailing the violations of the Syrian army along the border.
“Now most March 14 MPs have signed the petition, what will follow this move is up to the coalition,” he said.
The petition was initiated by Akkar MPs.
“The Lebanese Army is trying to deploy in the region, but violations of the border towns by the Syrian side are incessant; that is why we need the protection of international forces,” Akkar MP Nidal Tohme told The Daily Star.
Tohme said that intense shelling of north Lebanon border villages continued over the weekend, even after Sleiman received assurances from Syrian officials that those responsible would be held accountable.
He also hinted that he believes the targeting of Christian villages is a deliberate strategy on the part of Syria.
“The timing of the targeting of such towns raises many questions as to whether this is the Syrian regime’s response to President Sleiman’s recent national stances.”
The lawmaker said that besides the shelling, Syrian troops have conducted a number of incursions into Lebanese territory, some of which have included the kidnapping of Lebanese nationals.
Similarly, Future bloc MP Riad Rahhal lambasted the Syrian violations, accusing the Syrian regime of sowing strife in the region.
Rahhal told The Daily Star that the shelling brings to mind the Civil War, when Christians in certain regions were forced to abandon their towns.
“Other towns have also been subjected to Syrian shelling, and we cannot simply keep quiet about such violations. The era of Syrian tutelage is over.”
The Akkar MP indicated that the problem is not just about material damage and losses, but about the fact that people are living in fear.
“The residents are constantly worried and insecure. We don’t have to put up with that,” Rahhal said, urging a UNIFIL deployment on the northern border, in the same way the U.N. forces are deployed in south Lebanon, in order to prevent further attacks.
UNIFIL has been in southern Lebanon since 1978, and was expanded after the 2006 war so peacekeepers could deploy along the border with Israel to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into the south for the first time in decades.
In mid-August, Kataeb leader Amin Gemayel also urged “the deployment of U.N. [soldiers]” along the border with Syria.
Gemayel said that Lebanon should also provide the Arab League and the U.N. with information related to Syria’s violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty and lodge a complaint with the Security Council against its neighbor.