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Lebanon News

Future bloc to announce Arsal initiative

Majdalani speaks in Arsal as part of a Future bloc visit to the town to attempt to calm tensions.

BEIRUT: The Future Movement will announce an initiative to solve the Arsal crisis after meeting with the Army’s chief Monday, Future MP Atef Majdalani said Sunday.

Speaking to The Daily Star, Majdalani refused to be drawn on the details of the plan, noting only that “Arsal supports the Army and abides by the law, and there should be a fair and transparent investigation” into the incident Feb. 1 that left two soldiers dead and triggered tensions in the Bekaa town.

“We will declare an initiative out of Arsal’s crisis following a meeting with Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi tomorrow,” Majdalani said.

Two Lebanese soldiers were killed in an ambush by gunmen in the northeastern town after arresting Khalid Hmayyed, a man the Army has said was wanted on charges of terrorism and worked with the Nusra Front, an Islamist group currently fighting with Syrian rebels.

Shortly after the death of Sergeant Ibrahim Zahraman and Captain Pierre Bashalani, the Army encircled Arsal.

The Army continued its strict security measures Sunday, searching all those who entered and left the town. Security forces said they had arrested several people in connection with the incident, but refused to disclose their identities.

The crisis has prompted various reactions from across the political spectrum. Most leaders have supported the Army and called for a fair and transparent investigation, while those allied with the Future Movement have come out strongly behind Arsal’s residents, and the March 8 coalition has called for tighter security measures in the region.

Sidon-based Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, who has voiced suspicions over the order to send soldiers into Arsal, visited Tripoli Monday and reiterated his call to break the “siege” of the town.

“They have detained 70-year-old men and schoolchildren, and out of our eagerness to preserve the Army’s power I advise the Army commander and the military institution to end the siege,” Assir said. “Such actions are detrimental to the Army.”

“Sending in the soldiers without a plan, and without notifying the regional Army command raises a lot of questions about the aims behind sending this group,” Assir said.

Speaking after meeting with former Tripoli MP Misbah Ahdab, the controversial Salafist denied involvement in any initiative to mediate in the crisis but said, “from the information we have received lately I can say that things are heading toward reaching a solution.”

Ahdab suggested Arsal, like Tripoli and the North, are being targeted: “Why is the Cabinet only asking the Army to arrest those who have relations with the Syrian uprising?”

“What will happen to those who are being arrested in Arsal and referred to the military tribunal for investigation? Will another five years or more pass before investigations are finalized, similar to what is happening now with dozens of detained people?” he asked, in a reference to the Islamist detainees who have been held without trial since the 2007 Nahr al-Bared conflict.

Tripoli-based Salafist leader Dai al-Islam al-Shahhal called Assir’s visit “very important under the circumstances, in which the Sunnis are the target of malicious conspiracies that aim at causing disputes and rifts between large groups of the Sunni sect and the Army. I think we will be able to defuse and eradicate these conspiracies.”

In an interview with a Kuwaiti newspaper published Monday, Future parliamentary bloc head Fouad Siniora said that although those who “did wrong should be held accountable,” collective punishment is unacceptable.

“Any action that undermines the power of the state and its institution is rejected ... but we stress that innocents should not be punished in the place of the guilty,” Siniora said.

“There are certain parties who are trying to set up traps for Lebanon and the Lebanese people, and they are trying to find means to push this country and its people into these traps.”

Future Movement Secretary-General Ahmad Hariri also said there had been interference in Arsal: “There are attempts both to use the Army to assault Arsal, and to use Arsal to assault the Army.”

Nabil Qaouq, deputy head of Hezbollah’s executive council, said Sunday there was a connection between Syrian rebels and the soldiers’ deaths.

“In Lebanon, there is group that is satisfied with being part of the axis of aggression against Syria,” Qaouq said. “This group, which is financing and arming groups in Syria to undermine the Syrian army is the same group that is financing, instigating and arming those who killed the soldiers in Arsal.”

“Those who are covering for the armed opposition in Syria are the same people who are covering for those who killed the soldiers in Arsal,” he added.

“There are Lebanese parties and MPs who have slammed the Army and ... [and spoken against] those soldiers who were just doing their job. They are funded by foreign groups, and are attempting to undermine the Army.”

“Covering up for the crime that happened in Arsal is tantamount to participating in it, and covering for the presence of Syrian armed men on Lebanese territory is a crime against the nation and Syria,” Qaouq said.

Various visitors arrived in Arsal over the weekend attempting to mediate a solution.

The Future Movement delegation included Majdalani, as well as MPs Bassem al-Shaab, Jamal al-Jarrah, Amin Wehbe and Assem Araji.

The MPs met with Arsal mayor Ali Hujeiry, who later addressed the Army, saying: “Arsal is your village and we leave the issue to you, because you know all the details and the responsibility is yours.”

Hujeiry and his son were rumored to be among the men wanted for participating in the clashes, but Hujeiry has denied involvement.

Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr has been tasked with launching an investigation, and the LBCI television channel said Sunday that Saqr would issue charges Monday against almost 30 people involved in the clashes.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 11, 2013, on page 3.

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