BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Monday that his government is determined to fund a $1.6 billion plan passed by a ministerial committee to provide weapons and equipment to the Lebanese Army over five years.
Addressing members of the committee at the Grand Serail, Mikati said that the Cabinet’s determination to fund the plan and enable the Army to carry out its duties stems from its conviction that the Army, along with other security bodies, is a guarantor of stability.
Mikati said that preparing the plan is “the first practical step that translates continued moral support for the Army to material support that matches the achievements and sacrifices of the Army.”
He added that the Army is “above political disputes, at an equal distance from all groups, protects them without discrimination and implements the instructions of political authority.”
The prime minister called on all sides to spare the Army political bickering.
“It is unacceptable to drag the Army into these disputes or attack it, especially since its command is doing its best to see that its soldiers operate according to law ... and it is in the interest of no one to pressure or intimidate the Army.”
Speaking to reporters following the committee’s meeting, Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn said that committee members agreed to allocate $1.6 billion to provide the Army with arms and equipment over five years.
“The plan will be on the agenda of the Cabinet session following this week’s session, if we finish discussing the salary scale [during Wednesday’s session],” Ghosn said.
Ghosn said that implementing the plan was “important and essential.” “This is because for the first time, a plan which is for the benefit of the Army has been prepared,” he added.
“We all know the pressing needs of the Army so that it can implement the essential tasks it has taken on,” Ghosn said. “It is deploying in the north, south and in all governorates.”
Future bloc MP Mouein Merhebi and Army officials began exchanging accusations in July over the Army’s deployment in Akkar and other areas that border Syria. In May, two sheikhs were killed at an Army checkpoint in Akkar.
It started after Merhebi accused Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi of taking advantage of his rank in the Army as part of a bid to become the country’s next president. Army officials hit back, accusing Merhebi of making political statements ahead of the 2013 parliamentary elections.
Last month, Parliament received an official request from the Justice Ministry to strip Merhebi of his parliamentary immunity. The Future Movement said Merhebi’s stances do not reflect its position on the Army.
The Lebanese Army, numbering around 60,000, is currently handling substantial tasks with a modest capacity. In July, the Cabinet approved a plan to deploy the Army along the northern border with Syria in a bid to curb arms smuggling to the neighboring country where the anti-regime uprising is now in its 18th month, and to protect the borders against violations by the Syrian army.
Army troops are also heavily deployed in Tripoli, which has witnessed regular armed clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The Army deployed on the southern border with Israel following Israel’s 2006 war against Lebanon.
Separately, President Michel Sleiman paid tribute to soldiers who died in 2007 during battles between the Lebanese Army and militants from Fatah al-Islam, who seized control of the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.
Sleiman, who made his remarks on the fifth anniversary of the end of the battles, touched on the sufferings of the camp’s refugees, adding that they suffered injustice due to the presence of terrorism in the camp.
The president praised the Army’s efforts to defend the country and preserve its stability and civil peace.
He said that internal unity and a unified national will are important for security and military forces to carry out their duties toward the country and citizens.
Sleiman called on groups to carefully examine the “extremely delicate” developments the region is witnessing as it transitions to democracy, urging the Lebanese to put the national interest above all others.