BEIRUT: Lebanon's Cabinet Wednesday witnessed a "heated debate" between the March 8 ministers and ministers of MP Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party over the recent incident in Arsal.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati presided over the Cabinet session held at the Grand Serail with 62 items on its agenda, including the recent ambush in Arsal that claimed the lives of two soldiers as well as the controversial issue of telecom data.
Two soldiers were killed on the outskirts of Arsal in an ambush on a military unit that was apprehending a wanted man, who Army Intelligence says had links to Al-Qaeda.
The military has boosted its presence in the border town and made several arrests. The wanted man, Khaled Hmayyed, was also killed in the incident, according to security sources.
According to the sources, PSP ministers called for applying the law and extending the authority of the Army across Lebanon and not just Arsal.
Meanwhile, telecoms data was once again on the Cabinet’s agenda and ministers agreed to refer the request that the Telecommunications Ministry extends its provision of data to security bodies to a judicial committee tasked with the issue.
The committee will examine the request of security bodies to get additional data for the ministry and decide on the matter, said the sources.
The sources said the decision was reached smoothly without any debate between the ministers.
According to the sources, the Cabinet did not discuss Bulgaria’s claims that Hezbollah played a role in the 2012 bombing in the Black Sea resort of Burgas that led to the killing of five Israelis and the Bulgarian driver, although Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said earlier Wednesday the topic will be addressed during the session.
Ahead of the Cabinet meeting, signs of disagreement over the Arsal incident emerged.
As Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn told reporters that the Cabinet should provide the political cover for the Army to take the necessary measures in the town, Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour said the Army already had the necessary political cover.
Ghosn said the incident in Arsal would be discussed “seriously” by ministers.
He added that there were arrest warrants for “many fugitives in Arsal” and that the Cabinet should help the Army fulfill its mission in bringing them to justice.
“There is a large list of wanted suspects in Arsal and the Cabinet should provide the necessary political cover for the Army to take the necessary measures in the town,” he said, according to the National News Agency.
For his part, Abu Faour, a member of Jumblatt’s PSP, said the Army had the necessary political cover.
He also urged people to halt protests in solidarity with the Army.
“They should tone down this newfound [warmth] for the military,” he said, according to the NNA.
While thanking protesters for their support, the Army has urged people not to block roads.
“The Army is not a tribe or a sect as some are trying to depict it. Instead, it is a respected institution that applies the law and preserves the country’s civil peace,” said Abu Faour.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri warned in remarks published Wednesday against exploiting the recent incident in the predominantly Sunni Bekaa town to achieve “cheap gains” at the Army’s expense.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi vowed not to compromise on efforts to fight crime, according to the NNA.
“We as a command will not compromise. We support justice over revenge,” Kahwagi said during a visit to Akkar, north Lebanon, to offer condolences to the family of Sergeant Ibrahim Zahraman, one of the military fatalities of the Arsal ambush.
Capt. Pierre Bashalani was the second soldier who perished in the Friday attack.
Separately, Charbel said earlier during the day that the Cabinet would discuss Bulgaria’s accusation against Hezbollah and the nature of cooperation with Bulgarian authorities announced by Mikati.
Following Sofia’s announcement of the results of the probe into the bombing, Mikati said Lebanon was ready to cooperate in the investigation to unravel the circumstances surrounding the July 2012 attack.
Charbel criticized Sofia, saying that “the Bulgarian authorities should have informed Lebanon about the progress of the investigation before finalizing it.”
He also dismissed the possibility of Israeli aggression as a result of the probe’s findings and said foreign countries were keen on sparing Lebanon any tension.
“Any attack against Lebanon in the current situation will affect the whole region and foreign countries are keen on keeping Lebanon away from tension,” he said.
Also prior to the session, Mikati held separate talks with Lebanon’s Prosecutor Judge Hatem Madi and Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi.
Sources said that talks addressed a request by Madi to lift parliamentary immunity from opposition MP Butros Harb, who Tuesday said he would sue the judge that filed the request.