Army chief: Lebanon witnessed direst day in years

Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi inspects troops in Tripoli, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Army Website, HO)

BEIRUT: Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi warned in comments published Tuesday against fueling sectarian tensions, describing the recent security situation in Lebanon as the worst in years.

“Over the past 24 hours Lebanon passed through the most dangerous security conditions in eight years,” Kahwagi, who spoke to As-Safir newspaper, said.

“What happened shows clearly where sectarian incitement can lead to, politicians and religious figures should shoulder their responsibility and set limits on anyone who provokes strife inside the homeland,” he added.

Political and religious leaders scrambled to contain souring tensions in the country Monday, a day after four Muslim scholars were attacked in separate incidents in the Lebanese capital.

Authorities, with the assistance of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, have arrested several suspects in the incidents targeting the Muslim scholars and investigations into the attacks are still under way.

Various leaders warned Monday that the attacks on the four Sunni sheikhs, scholars at Dar al-Fatwa – Lebanon’s highest Sunni religious authority – could trigger sectarian conflict in the country and urged the security forces to bring the assailants to justice.

Kahwagi, in his comments to the Lebanese daily, also voiced surprise that some in the country were calling on the military to assume its responsibilities on the border while their speeches sparked tensions, exhausting the Army’s capabilities.

He appeared to be addressing the Lebanese opposition, which has repeatedly urged the Army to boost its presence along the border with Syria, in light of security incidents resulting in the death of Lebanese citizens as well as material damage.

On Monday, Syrian aircraft struck for the first time two sites in east Lebanon, days after Damascus warned it would target rebels in Lebanon.

“Immunize the inside for the Army to focus on [protecting] the border,” Kahwagi, addressing Lebanese political figures in the country, urged.

He stressed that thousands of soldiers were deployed throughout the country, both inland and along the border, and warned Lebanese figures of the seriousness of the risks facing Lebanon.

“Thousands of soldiers are deployed from the south to the north as well as in the capital, the Bekaa [Valley] and the mountains. They spend days without any sleep,” said Kahwagi.

“Everyone should understand the grave threats surrounding the country,” he added.

Still, the Army chief reassured the Lebanese that “the military institution has taken upon itself the task of protecting Lebanon and will seek, using all its capabilities, to prevent strife and confront all security breaches and attempts to destabilize Lebanon.”

The Daily Star - Lebanon