HERMEL, Lebanon: MPs representing the eastern town of Zahle accused Hezbollah Monday of expanding its telecommunications network into their area, in a bid to tighten their security hold on Lebanon, warning the resistance group against such attempts.
The MPs, who held a news conference to address the issue, also asked the president and the caretaker prime minister to dismantle the network.
“Installing this network comes as Hezbollah seeks to control the security of the Lebanese society by eavesdropping on their phone calls, and have its own network overlap with that of the state,” MP Tony Abu Khater said, reading a statement by the parliamentary bloc.
“We look to President Michel Sleiman and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to apply the law immediately and ask Hezbollah to dismantle the network, or we will be forced to take action,” he added.
Speaking to The Daily Star, residents claimed a van with Hezbollah members arrived near St. Charbel Church in Zahle at 10 p.m. Sunday and resumed their work on installing the party’s own "telecoms grid.”
They alleged other Hezbollah members were seen guarding the van.
In their statement, the MPs detailed the incident and said the Hezbollah members, who arrived with some workers, were installing cables inside the cement blocks they had placed along the highway last year.
A group of residents from the predominantly Christian town protested the work, taking to the streets and demanding the party dismantle the grid at once.
An Army unit was promptly deployed to restore calm, preventing possible altercations between the protesters and the alleged Hezbollah members.
Abu Khater told reporters that the MPs exerted efforts to calm the residents and prevent a clash and questioned the purpose behind installing the network in Zahle.
“I ask Hezbollah’s political, military and security officials: What do you want from Zahle, the city of peace?” he asked.
“If we were to believe the military logic [Hezbollah] is imposing, then we would ask them about what purpose is served by installing this network in Zahle,” Abu Khater added.
He also called on the Lebanese people to defend their right to privacy, which is allegedly being violated by the resistance group.
There have been protests in the past over the alleged installation of a private network by Hezbollah.
In 2011, residents of the Metn town of Tarshish said they stopped engineers who, according to local officials, were engaged in the construction of a telecoms grid for Hezbollah through the town. Tensions there dissipated weeks later after the town’s mayor said the state had intervened to end the work.
Hezbollah’s telecoms network has been a divisive subject in Lebanon. In 2008 a dispute sparked by a government move to shut down the network led to deadly clashes in parts of the country.
Kataeb party MP Elie Marouni said the installation of a Hezbollah network in Zahle was “prohibited.”
He said local officials worked hard all night to defuse tension among Zahle residents and supporters of the Kataeb and the Lebanese Forces “who reject any attack against our land and dignity.”
“We stayed on the ground until the gunmen, not technicians, withdrew,” Marouni told the Voice of Lebanon radio station. “I say this because the cars were without license plates and full of gunmen.”
LF MP Shant Janjanian, speaking to the Voice of Free Lebanon, warned that Zahle residents “will take to the streets and prevent any new attempt to install the network.”
Marouni said they received assurances from security and political leaders that the issue would be resolved Monday.