Lebanon News

Higher Defense Council responds to security incidents amid skepticism

BEIRUT: The Higher Defense Council agreed during an extraordinary meeting Friday to beef up security measures across Lebanon following a series of incidents that raised fears about the country’s security amid deep political divisions between the March 8 and March 14 parties.

The council’s meeting, chaired by President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace, came a day after two people were killed in a bomb explosion in the Antelias district, north of Beirut.

“The council discussed the security situation in the country in general, and the missions of the army, the Internal Security Forces and the other security apparatuses to preserve and protect the country,” the council said a statement issued after the meeting.

The participants agreed to “tighten security measures to bolster civil peace and prevent any breaches or tampering [with security], in addition to preventing the transportation and smuggling of arms.”

The council, headed by Sleiman, also agreed to boost cooperation with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon and protect the movements and travels of its troops in Lebanon.

The council also discussed the measures taken by relevant ministries and departments to help Syrian citizens who came to Lebanon fleeing the violence in Syria.

“After deliberations, the council distributed the missions to ministries and relevant agencies and issued instructions for permanent coordination between the military and security apparatuses to exchange information to ensure a better implementation of laws and rules in force,” said a statement issued by the council after its meeting. It added that the council kept its decisions secret according to law.

The council’s meeting followed a series of security incidents in the country. Two people were killed Thursday in Antelias when a bomb they were handling exploded. One man was seriously wounded in a mysterious explosion in Beirut’s southern suburbs two weeks ago. Last month, five French U.N. peacekeepers were wounded in a roadside bomb on the coastal highway in the southern city of Sidon.

The meeting was called by Sleiman to take “appropriate measures in line with the Cabinet’s policy to defend and maintain security,” after he voiced fears during Thursday’s Cabinet session that the current popular upheavals in the region would impact the internal security situation in Lebanon.

Friday’s meeting was attended by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn, Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi, Economy Minister Nicholas Nahhas and Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour. The country’s top security and military commanders, including Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi and ISF chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, also attended.

Contacted by The Daily Star, Charbel refused Friday to give details of the measures to be taken by the council to consolidate security. “The decisions have to be kept secret,” he said.

On the Antelias explosion, Charbel said that 80 percent of information gathered by police investigators indicated that the motive had been a personal and financial dispute between car dealers. He said security forces were hunting for a third accomplice.

In the meantime, Military Tribunal Judge Saqr Saqr Friday pressed charges against unidentified individuals for being accomplices to the preparation and detonation of the explosive device which went off in a parking lot in Antelias.

Saqr charged “unknown individuals for being an accomplice” with Ihsan Ali Dia and Hassan Nayef Nassar in the plot to prepare and blow up a bomb and cause casualties and material damage. The unidentified individuals face the death penalty if found guilty.

The charges laid out by Saqr fueled speculation that the explosion could be a terrorist act. A security source told The Daily Star that Saqr’s charges indicated the Antelias explosion “was a terrorist act.”

The Antelias explosion has also triggered reactions from rival factions.

Hezbollah slammed attempts to link it to any security incident in the country.

“Some Lebanese and Arab media outlets, whenever any [security] incident occurs, have persistently rushed to implicate Hezbollah as part of a programmed accusation plan that twists facts in an attempt to distort Hezbollah’s image and weaken its credibility before its Arab and Lebanese public. This is what we witnessed yesterday through a frenzied media campaign to accuse the party of what happened in Antelias,” Hezbollah said in a statement released by its media office.

The statement urged media outlets to avoid exaggeration and distortion that fuel tension, saying this was not in the country’s interest.

Some media outlets linked the two victims to Hezbollah because one of them lived in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah’s stronghold.

The March 14 General Secretariat criticized the Higher Defense Council’s “modest” response to the security incidents in the country.

“The council should have reassured the Lebanese about their security and stability with declared and firm decisions,” the secretariat said in a statement, condemning the government’s handling of the Antelias explosion and other security violations by “deliberately hiding facts from the Lebanese public opinion.”

Saqr’s charges against unidentified individuals in the blast disputed the government’s official version about a financial dispute, the statement said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 13, 2011, on page 2.

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