BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri and former premier Fouad Siniora agreed Monday on the need to maintain stability and protect civil peace increasingly threatened by the reverberations of the conflict in Syria as well as by deep political divisions between rival parties over the turmoil next door. At Berri’s invitation, Siniora, head of the Future parliamentary bloc, visited the speaker at his residence in Ain al-Tineh to discuss developments in Lebanon and Syria.
The meeting reflected a warming of ties between Berri and Siniora who lead rival blocs in the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and the opposition March 14 coalition respectively.
“The discussion, which included a luncheon, came in the framework of keenness on continued contacts amid the circumstances surrounding Lebanon and the region,” according to a statement released by Siniora’s media office.
It said that the meeting was designed to serve “the goals of preserving stability and protecting civil peace amid the continued political differences” between the March 8 and March 14 parties over the 18-month-old uprising in Syria.
The meeting was aimed at “boosting the state authority, implementing the law and strengthening the effective presence of official security and political institutions,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Berri and other March 8 politicians voiced support Monday for the Lebanese Army’s latest security measures in response to an attack on a military post by the rebel Free Syrian Army near the border with Syria.
“We have said it over and over again ... The Army is a red line. Let it fulfill its tasks, it is just carrying out its responsibilities to the fullest [of its capabilities],” Berri said in separate interviews published by An-Nahar and Ad-Diyar newspapers Monday.
He described those opposing the Army’s measures in the northeast near the border with Syria as “discordant voices that want to mar the national role of this institution.”
“Such voices will not affect the Army’s national role which we fervently support. The Army is above such statements anyway,” Berri said.
Berri’s remarks came a day after President Michel Sleiman praised the Army’s measures on the outskirts of the village of Arsal, about 10 kilometers from the border with Syria, “to protect Lebanese territory and prevent it from being used by any side” following the FSA’s attack.
The Army said in a statement Saturday that FSA members attacked a Lebanese military post Friday night near the northern border with Syria. No casualties 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. The Army vowed “not to allow any party to use Lebanese territory to implicate Lebanon in events in neighboring countries.”
“Following the incident with the Army in Arsal, is there anyone objecting to the benefits of the dissociation policy?” Berri asked.
The Lebanese government has adopted a policy to disassociate Lebanon from developments of the 18-month-old uprising in neighboring Syria. However, this policy has come under fire by the opposition March 14 parties which accuse the government of siding with the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Asked about the recent raids carried out by the Army in Beirut's southern suburbs, Berri stressed that the operation was ongoing and signaled that it would expand to include the Bekaa region.
“The Army will keep up its plan, and no one will be able to stop it as it is no longer acceptable to allow gangs to frighten citizens and impede the country’s economy,” Berri said.
Lebanon, already suffering from the impact of the Syrian crisis along its borders, has witnessed a wave of kidnappings and bank robberies around the country.
The Army has arrested several members of the Meqdad clan during raids on Beirut’s southern suburbs earlier this month after the clan kidnapped Syrians and a Turkish businessman to avenge the abduction of a family member Hassan Meqdad in Syria. The Army operation led to the release of all kidnap victims in the southern suburbs.
Meanwhile, Minister of State Marwan Kheireddine condemned the FSA attack on the Lebanese Army in Arsal.
“Insecurity on the Lebanese-Syrian border has become unacceptable regardless of the party that is responsible for it,” he said in a statement. “The Lebanese border is a sacred border and its violation amounts to a violation of Lebanese dignity and sovereignty.”
Kheireddine urged the government to provide the Army with “a political cover in order to enable it to carry out its extraordinary national duties to safeguard the stability of the Lebanese border and the security of citizens by halting the flow of arms and gunmen from and to Syria under any pretext.”
Nabatieh MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s bloc in Parliament, called on the Lebanese to support and rally behind the Lebanese Army to help it face security challenges posed by the reverberations of the turmoil in Syria.
“The Army has been playing its national role in preventing the smuggling of arms to Syria in conformity with the disassociation policy adopted by Lebanon on the Syrian crisis,” Raad told a rally in the southern village of Yuhmor al-Shakif in Nabatieh. “Our Army is being attacked by gunmen who are smuggling arms.”
Raad condemned any attack on the Army and security forces tasked with implementing the government’s disassociation policy on the conflict in Syria.
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. In line with a Cabinet decision, the Lebanese Army has deployed heavily along the border with Syria and taken necessary measures to prevent smuggling.