ARSAL, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army has a list of about 70 people wanted for their alleged involvement in last week’s deadly ambush that killed two Lebanese soldiers in Arsal, Ali Hujeiri, the mayor of the Bekaa Valley town, said Thursday.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Hujeiri denied media reports that he and his son were among the names included in the Army’s wanted list.
“The wanted list has been prepared randomly by Army Intelligence personnel,” he said.
Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi said no arrest warrants have so far been issued against anyone in the Arsal ambush. He told the Voice of Lebanon radio station that investigation into the attack was ongoing in “a legal manner whereby the results of investigation with detained people would be sent to the Public Prosecution which would decide on whether to issue arrest warrants.”
The minister’s remarks came a week after Islamist gunmen ambushed an Army patrol in Arsal, killing Capt. Pierre Bashaalani, 31, and Sgt. Ibrahim Zahraman, 32, in an incident that heightened tension near the already tense border with Syria.
The Army patrol was attacked after taking part in an operation to arrest a fugitive Khaled Hmayyed, a resident of Arsal, who was killed during a clash with the patrol.
Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, who described the ambush as a “premeditated” crime, has vowed to punish the gunmen who fired on the Army patrol.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati reiterated Wednesday his government’s support for the Army measures to apprehend the gunmen involved in the ambush that also wounded a number of soldiers and assailants and killed the wanted man accused of “several terrorist acts.”
A week after the incident, the Army has kept up a tight seal on Arsal, searching people entering and leaving the town and examining their IDs.
Troops erected mobile and stationary checkpoints as part of the Army’s measures aimed at preventing the wanted people from fleeing to the adjacent Syrian territory, particularly to the Qalamoun and Qara areas, which are controlled by the rebel Free Syrian Army.
In a show of solidarity with the Lebanese Army, Arsal’s schools organized symbolic marches in the town during which students waved a huge Lebanese flag stretching over 400 meters, representing more than 300 flags.
The students carried pro-Army placards and chanted slogans praising the military martyrs.
The march organizers handed over the huge flag, which was signed by scores of the town’s notables, mukhtars and sheikhs, to the military officer in charge of the Army checkpoint at Arsal’s main entrance.
Also, a delegation of religious figures led by Mufti of the Bekaa Sheikh Khalil Mais and representative of Dar al-Fatwa Sheikh Amin Kurdi, visited Arsal, where they met with members of the municipal council, as well as local figures.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mais said: “We came to offer condolences over the town’s martyr [Hmayyed] and the Army’s martyrs who are Lebanon’s martyrs.”
Noting that the Army was going through “difficult circumstances” following the incident, he called for “those who made mistakes, whoever they are, to be punished.”