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Future MPs demand investigation into cause of Arsal incident
Lebanese soldiers stand at a checkpoint at the entrance of Arsal, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. (The Daily Star/Nidal Solh)
Lebanese soldiers stand at a checkpoint at the entrance of Arsal, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. (The Daily Star/Nidal Solh)
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BEIRUT: A delegation of Future Movement MPs called on the judiciary Monday to investigate the killing of two soldiers in Arsal earlier this month during a visit with Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi.

“We called for a transparent investigation and for a clarification behind the circumstances that led to the incident, because [Arsal] residents believe that things are not clear,” delegation member MP Jamal Jarrah told The Daily Star.

“We said that whoever turns out to be involved should be held accountable and stressed that some media outlets should stop generalizing about the people of Arsal and saying that they mutilated the bodies [of the soldiers] which did not happen at all,” Jarrah added.

According to Jarrah, Kahwagi said the judiciary was investigating the matter and voiced his eagerness to preserve stability in Arsal.

Future Movement MP Atef Majdalani had announced Sunday that his party would unveil a plan to resolve the Arsal crisis after its meeting with Kahwagi. No explanation was offered as to why an initiative was not unveiled Monday and Majdalani could not be reached for comment.

Capt. Pierre Bashaalani and Sgt. Ibrahim Zahraman were killed Feb. 1 after their patrol was ambushed in Arsal following a gun fight with a fugitive, Khaled Hmayyed. Arsal residents deny Hmayyed was a wanted man and claim that Army personnel came to the town without notice.

The Army sealed off the town in the wake of the incident. Some Future lawmakers have said the Army has effectively imposed a siege.

Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr Monday charged 34 people in connection with the ambush. Two are in Army custody and, if convicted, the perpetrators could face death.

Saqr referred the case to Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghida and asked for the testimony of Arsal Mayor Ali Hujeiry.

President Michel Sleiman said there could be no justification for the attack.

“Attacking the Army is unacceptable, regardless of justification ... justice will take its course in this matter until the end,” Sleiman said during a meeting with Future Movement MPs Khaled Zahraman, Nidal Tohme and the family of Zahraman.

The president also discussed the known facts of the Arsal case with Interior Minister Marwan Charbel Monday.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt slammed the reaction of some Future Movement lawmakers.

“It is unacceptable to depict it as a spot besieged by the Lebanese Army, as neither does Arsal deserve to be besieged nor is the Army in the position of besieging Lebanese towns and villages,” he said in his weekly editorial for PSP-owned Al-Anbaa newspaper.

“If there is a siege, then it is the one imposed by minor writers, [Future Movement] MPs and sons of MPs who take advantage of [the power] vacuum and the state of disarray in the Future Movement, and keep their eyes on the Grand Serail,” Jumblatt said.

“Let us all strengthen the Lebanese Army and ... distance it from narrow political bickering,” Jumblatt said, adding some in the north “pretend to forget” Army efforts to prevent civil strife and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s call to maintain solidarity with the Army last week.

Hezbollah MP Walid Sukkarieh called on the state to act decisively in Arsal: “The last incident was preceded by similar ones and Arsal has become a den for the Syrian opposition along the border,” Sukkarieh said during a seminar in the Bekaa, adding the government should assume its responsibilities.

Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel called on the Army to clarify what happened.

“Making mistakes did not start in Arsal, [it started] when the state began to accept those who attack the Lebanese Army, like what happened in the Ain al-Rummaneh incident, where, rather than sending the criminals to prison, we punished the officers and soldiers,” he said.

Gemayel was referring to a clash between Army personnel and protesters in the southern Beirut suburb of Shiyah in 2008 which left several demonstrators dead.

For his part, Sheikh Dai al-Islam al-Shahhal, the founder of the Salafist Movement, said during a news conference in Tripoli the Arsal incident was part of a scheme targeting Sunnis.

“They said Khaled Hmayyed is wanted ... they said there is an outstanding arrest warrant against him that we did not hear about except after his killing,” he said. “What happened in Arsal is a crime against the country, we call for revealing the truth through a transparent investigation.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 12, 2013, on page 3.
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