TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami has called on the government to act to stem the proliferation of arms in his hometown of Tripoli, saying that the attack on his convoy was aimed at destabilizing the northern city.
“The state is slack and probably incapable, but we will not change our bet. The state must act to deal with the unchecked arms in the city because the people can no longer tolerate this situation and things can take a more dangerous trend,” Karami told a news conference at his residence in Tripoli Saturday after receiving a throng of well-wishers.
He spoke a day after his convoy came under fire in Tripoli by gunmen demanding the release of Islamist prisoners in an attack that wounded 11 people, including four of Karami’s bodyguards.
Karami, who was not harmed, initially described the attack as an attempt on his life, but he later retracted his statement. His father, former Prime Minister Omar Karami, said the incident was a “mistake.”
However, the incident has raised tensions in Tripoli, which had been rocked by off-and-on clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“The incident was a spur of the moment. But its real target was the security and stability of Tripoli,” Karami said. “Thank God, the city was spared major strife.”
The sports minister voiced his concerns over the availability of arms in Tripoli. The incident has revived calls for declaring Tripoli an arms-free city, a long-standing demand of the city’s residents and various political parties.
“There is a unanimity among all Tripolitans [against the proliferation of arms] that should be exploited at this moment,” Karami said. He added that he had received phone calls from the March 8 and March 14 parties, including the Future Movement, condemning the uncontrolled proliferation of arms in the city.
“It is the responsibility of the state and security agencies, and of course, the government,” to act to control the arms proliferation, he added.
Among the people who visited the Karamis to congratulate the sports minister on his safety was a Salafi delegation led by Sheikh Salem Rafei, including Sheikh Hussam al-Sabagh, a Salafist preacher in Tripoli.
It was reported that the gunmen who attacked Karami’s convoy were Salafists from Tripoli’s Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood, whose residents support the armed rebellion against the Assad regime.
Rafei’s visit to the Karamis was apparently aimed at defusing tensions in the city. Speaking to reporters after the visit Friday night, Rafei said the Islamist gunmen did not target Karami.
“The aim of the Salafists was to show solidarity with the Islamists detained in Roumieh prison and undo the injustice inflicted on them” Rafei said.
Around 200 suspected Fatah alIslam inmates allegedly involved in the 2007 battle with the Lebanese Army in the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared are awaiting trial at Roumieh.
Salafist groups as well as politicians in the north and Beirut have repeatedly called for the judiciary to act on the case of Islamist prisoners in Roumieh.
Meanwhile, a hand grenade was discovered Sunday near a garbage dump in the Mina area near Tripoli port, security sources said. An Army explosives expert dismantled the grenade, which was had not been primed to explode, the sources said.