Ghosn: Exceptional efforts needed to avert civil strife

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Lebanese Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn attends a Cabinet session at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Lebanon, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011. (Mohammad Azakir/The Daily Star)

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s defense minister warned Thursday that “exceptional efforts” were required to avoid civil strife in Lebanon, while the commander of the Army pledged that the military would not suffer a split along sectarian lines.

“The entire [security] situation is not reassuring. The winds of strife are looming on the horizon because some people, either intentionally or unintentionally, are trying to trigger [strife] without considering the devastating effects it may have on the country,” Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn said.

Ghosn added that the situation in the country required “exceptional efforts from all Lebanese to protect the country from malicious strife.”

“The Army is doing much more than its capacities allow and it will not hesitate to carry out its duty to the fullest,” he explained.

Ghosn’s comments came during a meeting with a delegation that included George Bashaalani, the father of slain Army Capt. Pierre Bashaalani.

Bashaalani and Sgt. Ibrahim Zahraman were killed on Feb. 1 in an ambush in the border town of Arsal in the Bekaa Valley.

During the meeting, Ghosn praised the “huge sacrifices that the Lebanese Army has offered, and informed the delegation that the blood of the two martyrs ... was not shed in vain.”

The minister also met with the commander of UNIFIL in Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra. The two men discussed the situation in the south and the tasks carried out by the Army in cooperation with the U.N. peacekeepers.

Both men stressed the need to “enhance cooperation between the two sides and to preserve calm in south Lebanon in light of the accelerating and dangerous developments in the region.”

Hours after Ghosn issued his warning, a group of armed men from the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood of Tripoli destroyed three Syrian trucks that were transporting fuel oil to Syria. The trucks were seized and burned in the Souq al-Qamah neighborhood in Tripoli after the deployment of several gunmen in the area, according to the National News Agency.

The incident came after the commander of the Lebanese Army, Gen. Jean Kahwagi, said that the force’s integrity remained intact, and reiterated that there would be no repeat of the events of 1976. His comments were a reference to the division of the Army along sectarian lines during the early part of the Civil War.

Kahwagi also stressed that the Army was determined to safeguard Lebanon from the repercussions of regional conflicts.

“The Army is determined now, more than ever, to prevent the effects of the regional conflicts on Lebanon and to confront any side that attempts to provoke religious and sectarian strife with the aim of targeting the prestige of the state and national unity,” Kahwagi said during meetings with senior Army officials.

“The circumstances of 1976 will never be repeated. This is due to the unity of the Army and its immunity as well as the decisive decisions it takes to confront strife as well as Lebanese from different affiliations and sects rallying around [the military],” he added.

Kahwagi also hailed “the efforts exerted by the Army and its sacrifices to safeguard security and stability in different Lebanese areas,” citing recent arrests of gang members, including those involved in kidnappings.

Echoing Ghosn’s comments, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said that the situation in the country was critical due to the sharp political divide over the ongoing violence in Syria.

Charbel, who was speaking in Saudi Arabia during a meeting of Arab interior ministers, said that the security situation would only stabilize if Lebanon maintained its distance from the events in Syria.

“This requires everyone to commit themselves to the Baabda Declaration and return to dialogue and continue building a state,” Charbel said, referring to senior leaders’ pledge to remain neutral toward regional crises.

For his part, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that the security situation remained under control despite the negative repercussions of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon.

“Despite the incidents taking place and the effect of the unrest in Syria, the security situation is still acceptable,” Mikati told a delegation of journalists at the Grand Serail. “Honestly, what we have been working on for the past two years is primarily to protect Lebanon from the repercussions of the Syrian crisis.”

The Daily Star - Lebanon