BEIRUT: In a strongly worded statement, the Lebanese Army accused some MPs and politicians Tuesday of inciting citizens against the military institution, hinting it might sue anyone trying to defame its personnel.
The tough Army stance came as supporters of Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun cut off the main highway near the National Museum in Beirut to show solidarity with the military and demand the release of several officers detained in connection with the killing of two sheikhs in the northern district of Akkar in May.
“At a time when the country is suffering from political and social problems and several [labor] demands, some MPs and politicians continue to incite against the Army and defame some of its officers on a personal level, particularly in connection with the Kwaikhat incident,” the Army said in a statement.
“This indicates ulterior intentions by those [politicians] against the military establishment and their insistence on targeting it with the aim of increasing tension and chaos, which would [undermine] general stability in the country,” it added.
The military called on politicians to demonstrate their national responsibilities, saying that Lebanon was going through “a critical stage.” The statement said the Army reserved the right to sue those damaging the Army and the dignity of its soldiers.
Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Wahed, an anti-Syria Muslim preacher, and his companion Hussein al-Mereb were shot dead on May 20 at a Lebanese Army checkpoint in the village of Kuwaikhat in Akkar in an incident whose reverberations have not yet been contained.
Future MPs in the north and Akkar’s sheikhs have demanded the trial of Army officers linked to the killing. They have also demanded that the case be referred to the Judicial Council, the country’s highest judicial body, which looks into security cases that threaten to destabilize the country.
Three Army officers, who were released earlier in the month on bail in the case of the killings, were re-arrested. Their arrests sparked street protests by Army’s supporters who demanded their release.
The Nahr al-Mot highway linking Beirut with the north was closed for several hours Tuesday night by friends and supporters of the Army. The Baalbek-Homs highway was also cut off by Army supporters who demanded the officers’ release.
The Army also criticized the dissemination of false information by some media outlets about the military’s movements, as well as security leaks that “threaten national security in the country and the safety of the ongoing judicial investigation in the Kwaikhat incident.”
The Army called on media outlets to cooperate with it in the future and to check with it for correct information.
The military reiterated that it was not above the law and that it resorted to the judiciary in any incident involving the armed forces. It called on its supporters to avoid blocking roads to show their solidarity.
The statement urged “those sympathizing with the Army for any reason to take down banners of support and [to] stop protests and road blocking which harms the interest of citizens and their daily lives.”
Aoun has defended the Army despite severe criticism regarding the killings of the sheikhs. He said there was no justification for the re-arrest of the three officers.
“Our history indicates that we have always defended the unity of the Lebanese Army,” Aoun, a former Army commander, told reporters after chairing a weekly meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc at his residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut.
“There is an intention to divide the Army. There are some who are trying to divide it,” Aoun said. “There is an attempt to blackmail the judiciary over the case of the three Army officers.”
Also, the parliamentary Future bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri reiterated its “full support” for the Lebanese Army in cracking down on those who try to undermine security. In a statement issued after its weekly meeting, the bloc renewed its call for the formation of “a salvation government,” and praised the military judge’s decision to re-arrest the three Army officers as part of the “expanding the investigation into the assassination of the two sheikhs.”
The bloc also condemned the tactics of blocking roads and restricting the freedom of movement by any group. “This tactic has proved its failure and dangers to the country’s citizens and stability,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, around 500 protesters cut off the main highway outside the Military Court in Beirut during a FPM-sponsored rally to show solidarity with the Army, demanding the release of several officers detained in the investigation of the sheikhs’ killings.
After gathering outside the National Museum of Beirut the crowd, waving military and FPM party banners, pushed down onto Pierre Gemayel road, cutting off traffic and waving flags in front of the court.
Military presence around the rally was minimal, and organizers said they had coordinated alternate routes for traffic ahead of time with the police, yet a number of drivers were clearly stuck behind the mass of people that blocked both roads for around an hour.
Demonstrators carried banners with the faces of the soldiers who died in Nahr al-Bared and held military boots on sticks, while chanting for God, Lebanon, the Army and Aoun.
“We think the Lebanese Army is a red line, it’s our country and our independence,” said Perla Maroun a 20-year-old student at the rally.
“Security officers are in jail while the terrorists are having fun,” a banner read.
“Beware of a new Nahr al-Bared,” read another.
A similar protest occurred near Jounieh Monday, cutting off the highway for several hours, and protesters at Tuesday’s rally hope more rallies will be held until the officers are released.
“The intention is not to cut the road – the intention is to come and show support for the officers and the soldiers,” said Joe, a businessman.