BEIRUT: Commander of the Army Gen. Jean Kahwagi described Sunday the ambush that killed two soldiers as a “premeditated” crime, vowing to apprehend the gunmen and their accomplices.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the gunmen involved in the incident should be handed over immediately, saying the Army has the appropriate political cover to carry out any operations.
Gunmen carried out an ambush on a military patrol after a military intelligence unit apprehended a man wanted “for several terrorist acts.” Several gunmen and other soldiers were also wounded in the fighting.
Security sources told The Daily Star Friday, that Khalid Hmayyed, the wanted man, was killed in a clash with the military, which prompted gunmen in the area to retaliate.
LBCI broadcast images of the soldiers after the ambush where they were held in the headquarters of the Arsal Municipality. The photos, obtained exclusively, show bloodied soldiers wearing military uniform and the Army truck used to hunt the wanted individual.
The broadcast comes after allegations by some of the residents that the military personnel were in civilian clothes and drove a regular vehicle.
The Army arrested nine people on Saturday, security sources told The Daily Star. Two of them are accused of involvement in the ambush.
A delegation from the Committee of Muslim Scholars, who met with Arsal residents in a bid to contain the issue, called for an investigation committee to reveal the circumstances behind the incident.
The committee headed by Sheikh Salem Rafie also asked the government to lift what they described as a blockade on Arsal in order to prevent tensions.
In a chat with reporters, Rafie said that neither the Army nor the residents are above making mistakes, warning against attempts to incite conflict between the Army and the Sunni community.
He also asked for the release of Sheikh Yehya al-Hujeiri, who was among the men apprehended by the military following the incident. Hujeiri is a member of the committee.
The Army has increased its presence in Arsal and surrounding areas and set up a number of checkpoints in the northern region.
In a letter addressing the military, Kahwagi said: “We will not be silenced or accept any political compromise over the blood of Maj. Pierre Bashalani or Ibrahim Zahraman and we reject any attempt by any party to lessen the degree or ugliness of the crime that was committed against the Army in a premeditated manner and via barbaric means not in line with our Christian and Muslim beliefs.”
The ambush killed Sergeant Ibrahim Zahraman, 32, who was laid to rest Saturday afternoon in his hometown of Akkar, north Lebanon and Captain Pierre Bashalani, 31, whose body arrived in the Zahle town of Mreijet Sunday.
Fireworks and heavy gunfire erupted as Bashalani’s coffin wrapped in a Lebanese flag was carried inside the church for the funeral procession.
In his fiery remarks Sunday, Kahwagi also said that the Army would take all necessary action to apprehend the gunmen.
“On this sad day, we say to those betting on targeting the Army that anyone who thinks that our wisdom in dealing with incidents stems out of weakness is mistaken and so is whoever thinks our work against terrorism aimed at destabilizing our societies and coexistence might stop for any reason or any party regardless of its local and regional size,” the commander said.
“Our promise to our martyrs, their families and friends that the perpetrators will get their punishment and accomplices will get what they deserves whatever the cost is for the sake of Lebanon' unity, its security and stability,” he added.
Mikati, who met Kahwagi and Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn earlier Sunday, said the issue should be resolved immediately.
“The matter should be resolved as soon as possible and the shooters should be handed over,” Mikati told reporters after the meeting.
“Let's leave it to the Army to resolve this matter away from sectarian tensions and we will not accept for a group of Lebanese to feel targeted in these circumstances,” he added.
Mikati also said that the military was carrying out a routine operation to apprehend the wanted individuals, asking north Lebanon residents to cooperate with the Army so that it can apprehend those involved in the ambush.
During his chat with reporters outside the Defense Ministry in Yarze, Mikati said he offered his condolences over the death of the two soldiers, affirming that the Army has appropriate political cover to carry out such tasks.