BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman praised over the weekend steps taken by the Lebanese Army following an attack on the military by the Free Syrian Army in the northeast. “Sleiman hailed the actions taken by the Lebanese Army Saturday on the outskirts of Arsal to protect Lebanese territory and prevent it from being used by any side,” the president said Saturday in a statement, according to his office.
In an earlier statement, the Army said members of the Free Syrian Army attacked a Lebanese military post Friday night near the northern border with Syria. No causalities were reported.
“For the second time in less than a week, a unit from the Free Syrian Army [consisting of] a large number of gunmen entered Lebanese territory overnight via the outskirts of Arsal, where it attacked one of the Lebanese Army’s posts,” the statement said.
Following the incident, Army reinforcements were dispatched to the area, while soldiers began pursuing the assailants who escaped toward the mountains as well as some border towns, the statement added.
“The Army’s leadership affirms that it will not allow any party to use Lebanese territory to implicate Lebanon in ongoing events in neighboring countries,” the Army said.
Residents in Arsal, located 10 km from the border with Syria, told The Daily Star that earlier Friday the Army caught an unspecified number of members of the Syrian rebel group, but released them hours later due to pressure by the town’s notables.
In his statement Saturday, Sleiman noted that the actions taken by the Lebanese military came within the framework of keeping Lebanon “neutral from the conflicts of others,” as per a recent Cabinet decision as well as an agreement by “all members” of the National Dialogue Committee.
Rival March 8 and March 14 politicians agreed during the first session of the National Dialogue in almost 18 months on June 11 to “keep Lebanon away from the policy of regional and international conflicts and spare it the negative repercussions of regional tensions and crises.”
The participants also agreed on the need to control the increasingly tense Lebanese-Syrian border, rejected the idea of a buffer zone between the two countries, and said a “base or corridor for the smuggling of arms and gunmen” would not be tolerated.
In his statement, Sleiman called on border residents to “stand beside their Army and assist its members.”
He also urged them to abide by the agreements of National Dialogue, which stipulates a “keenness to control the situation along the Lebanese-Syrian border, prevent the establishment of a buffer zone in Lebanon, and prevent the country from being used as a base for smuggling weapons and fighters.”
Tensions have been running high on the 550 km long Syria-Lebanon border since the uprising began against President Bashar Assad’s government in mid-March of last year.
Syria has repeatedly claimed that rebel groups are operating in Lebanon’s border towns, and have asked authorities to crack down and prevent the smuggling of arms and gunmen.
Earlier this year, Lebanon’s Cabinet asked the Army to deploy heavily along the border and take all necessary measures to prevent smuggling.
The government’s decision in July came after Syrian shelling killed two Lebanese in the Wadi Khaled border region and in light of repeated Syrian incursions into Lebanese territory.
In its statement Saturday, the Army reiterated its determination to protect Lebanese territory, adding that it would respond with force to any violation regardless of the party behind it.