Lebanon public sector strikes over pay raise

BEIRIUT: Teachers and public servants across Lebanon observed a one-day strike Wednesday to protest delay in approving a salary raise bill.

All public school teachers and vocational academies shut down in response to the Union Coordination Committee’s call for a daylong strike.

Only 50 percent of private schools, however, committed to the action called for by the UCC, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees.

Teachers and public employees are scheduled to hold a sit-in before midday in Downtown Beirut to protest Parliamentary Joint Committes’ failure to pass a draft law that would increase their pay.

They have threatened to step up their actions if their demands are not met.

Parliament, which began three-day meetings Tuesday to discuss a number of bills, is not scheduled to debate the salary increase.

Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh called for an installment plan to pay the wage hikes in a bid to ease pressure on the Treasury’s finances and avoid inflation.

“I’m not against the pay raise in principle, but approval should be accompanied by reforms,” Salameh told the local daily Al-Joumhouria in remarks published Wednesday.

“I believe that the most appropriate solution at the moment would be an installment [plan],” he added.

Salameh said taxes to finance the salary scale constitute 4 percent of GDP.

Electricite de Liban contract workers will join the protesters in Downtown to demand a bill be amended so that they can become permanent employees.

Parliament formed a committee comprising MPs from various blocs in a bid to reach an agreement over the draft law.

Some EDL protesters tried to make their way to Parliament Tuesday, engaging in fistfights with anti-riot police. A Lebanese Army unit and Parliament police took strict security measures around Parliament Wednesday to prevent protesters from approaching the building.

The Daily Star

AUB students prepare to occupy campus

BEIRUT: The American University of Beirut is bracing for a student-led occupation of a central building on campus Wednesday afternoon after activists accused the administration and Board of Trustees of not taking seriously their demands to halt the tuition hike.

“Following the BoT’s [Board of Trustees] unresponsiveness and disregard of the demands of the student body, further escalation of our actions is clearly a necessity,” read a statement posted on a Facebook event page titled Occupy College Hall by a group called Students of AUB.

“Starting Wednesday, April 2 2014, we will start a sit in at 3:00 pm in front of College Hall, during which we sill set up tents and sleep for an undetermined period of time.”

AUB President Peter Dorman, Provost Ahmad Dallal and the university’s Chief Financial Officer George DeBin all have their offices in College Hall. The university denies that it disregarded student demands.

Students are calling for the administration to freeze tuition fees for next year, something the administration says is practically impossible due to the funds needed to maintain AUB’s standard of operations.

While dialogue between a student delegation and Dorman is ongoing, some say they have begun to doubt the goodwill of the administration.

According to one graduate student, who asked to remain anonymous, it has tried to silence students’ demands. The goal of the College Hall occupation, she said, was to “push back, to reclaim a space where students can’t be ignored.”

Dallal said he did not see the point of the protest: “I don’t know what purpose the occupation will serve.”

He said the university’s financial officers were working long hours to develop budget plans that would minimize the tuition increase, but did not disclose details of the numbers being considered.

“We just cannot commit to a figure right now,” he said, adding: “It will take four or five weeks to resolve this issue.”

Students, however, accuse the administration of dragging its feet ahead of the upcoming Board of Trustees’ meetings at which the budget will be finalized.

“We can’t just wait around for the board’s response in May,” said a student activist, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Jean. “We believe this [occupation] is a form of peaceful pressure that can have a stronger impact than an open strike.”

The occupation plan was decided upon after a letter released by Dorman last week all but confirmed that tuition would indeed increase next year, Jean explained. “It’s finished, [the administration] didn’t give us any other choice,” he said.

Despite having previously sympathized with the students’ demands, Dean of Student Affairs Talal Nizameddin strongly censured the planned occupation.

“I do not support the occupation of any building for a variety of reasons including safety concerns,” he told The Daily Star.

“I know that the Occupy Wall Street movement was fashionable and this is probably the model that is being emulated, but in this case, the university is home to students,” he said. “Having large crowds in buildings and blocking exits puts lives at risk.”

Jean, however, was confident that the occupation of College Hall would have a positive impact.

“During the day, it will be a place where students will hang out and protest and study and spend their time,” he said.

“We believe that if the occupation succeeds, the administration will go for negotiations.”

The Daily Star

Army crackdown pacifies Tripoli as militia leaders flee

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Security forces launched a wide-ranging crackdown in Tripoli Tuesday that brought calm to the embattled northern city but failed to apprehend militia leaders who went into hiding ahead of the raids.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, the Army said it had arrested 75 people, 27 of whom had Palestinian or Syrian citizenship, and confiscated large quantities of weapons and ammunition.

The arrests were made as part of the government-approved security plan to restore stability to the city, where rounds of fighting linked to the war in Syria have claimed scores of lives. Those arrested are suspected of involvement in clashes.

Around 1,800 Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces personnel were deployed in Tripoli in the early hours of the morning and conducted an estimated 40 raids in several neighborhoods of Lebanon’s second largest city.

The sites of the raids included the residence of the pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party Secretary-General Rifaat Eid in Jabal Mohsen, where soldiers confiscated two wireless devices and two surveillance cameras, among other items, security sources said. It was the first time the ISF has deployed to Jabal Mohsen, where tensions between local Alawites and the security force had reached a fever pitch.

Security forces in Akkar also raided the home of ADP leader Ali Eid, who is accused of helping to smuggle out a suspect involved in twin car bombings in Tripoli last summer. Four of his guards were arrested, security sources said, but Eid was not found.

The Army also raided the house of militant Sheikh Omar Bakri, a Tripoli-based Islamist, in the Abu Samra neighborhood, as well as the residence of Shadi Mawlawi, but the two men were not found, according to the sources.

Mawlawi was previously accused of terrorism-related offenses and leads an armed group in Tripoli.

The Army raided the neighborhood of Riva and detained militia leader Jihad Dandashi, along with 10 other people including three Syrians.

Tripoli gunmen and fighters went into hiding in anticipation of the security plan’s implementation, after the military prosecutor issued 200 warrants, including some for militia leaders in the city.

Residents said the city was peaceful and expressed support for the Army’s plan, hoping that it could herald a return to economic growth. Asaad Hariri, an established merchant, said it was the first time residents had seen Lebanese helicopters flying in Tripoli’s skies since the early 1980s, adding that he had seen no armed gunmen or thugs on motorcycles since the Army deployment.

“Economics and security go hand in hand,” he said.

Roula Fawwaz, who heads a number of vocational training centers in the city, said calm had taken hold.

“I’m usually scared when I go out and drive my car, but it was peaceful in the street,” she said.

“We are with the security plan,” she added. “All of the people of Tripoli need this.”

Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr issued warrants on charges related to armed clashes, car bombs, kidnapping and forgery, as well as the attempted murder of civilians and Army soldiers. The judicial move grants security agencies the right to detain suspects and refer them to the judiciary.

The military and ISF set up 30 checkpoints throughout the city. The Army began removing barricades and sandbags that were erected during armed clashes, as several shops and markets opened for business.

Internet services in Tripoli were cut off to assist in the implementation of the plan, which was drafted by the Higher Defense Council.

President Michel Sleiman voiced relief over the measures and “sacrifices to restore stability and preserve the security of the nation and citizens.”

At least 30 people were killed in the latest round of fighting between opponents and supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The clashes subsided last week.

MP Walid Jumblatt mocked the security plan, saying the government’s announcement gave militia leaders enough time to flee the city.

“Now Rifaat Eid can continue his graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley,” Jumblatt said in the statement.

Meanwhile, Investigative Military Judge Fadi Sawan questioned Jamal Daftardar, who was once thought to be the next leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, and issued an arrest warrant against him on charges of belonging to terrorist networks, including Al-Qaeda and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades

Judge Sawan questioned Daftardar inside the military hospital in Beirut, where the detainee is receiving treatment.

The charges against Daftardar also included transporting explosives-rigged vehicles from Syria to Lebanon and detonating them in residential areas of Beirut and the capital’s southern suburbs, as well as killing civilians and launching rockets into Israel.

A judicial source told The Daily Star that Daftardar, also known as Mohammad Ahmad al-Masri, confessed to belonging to the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. He also confessed that the former leader of the group, the late Majid al-Majid, had previously appointed him as an official of Islamic law in Lebanon.

Daftardar claimed that Majid had appointed Naim Abbas, the alleged mastermind behind two bombings, as the new military official for the group in Lebanon.

After he finished questioning Daftardar, the judge referred the file, which covers 23 suspects from a range of nationalities, to judge Saqr Saqr. The file includes Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi suspects, some of whom remain at large .

Daftardar was arrested during a raid on a residence in the Western Bekaa town of Kamed al-Loz in mid-January.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for several attacks in Lebanon including the Nov. 19 twin suicide attacks targeting the Iranian Embassy in Beirut that left 30 people dead, including an Iranian diplomat. – Additional reporting by Kareem Shaheen

The Daily Star

Court rules contract to install cameras across Beirut is illegal

BEIRUT: A Lebanese court Tuesday rejected a plan to install surveillance cameras around the capital, ruling that the $40 million contract awarded by the Municipality of Beirut for the project was illegal.

“The Court of Accounts has decided not to agree to awarding a project to install surveillance cameras in the streets of the city of Beirut because the file of the case is not legal,” the court said in a statement.

The decision was made by Judge Abdel-Rida Nasser, chief of the Court of Accounts, and judges Ramzi Nahra and Lynan Hayek, the National News Agency reported.

However, Beirut Mayor Bilal Hamad defended the municipality’s decision to award the contract to Guardia Systems.

He said the municipality received five bids from qualified companies and chose Guardia because it was the least expensive.

Guardia Systems is a legal company. We selected this company because it offered the lowest price and is more qualified among the five companies,” Hamad told The Daily Star. “The awarding of the contract was made by consent.”

After the court decision was made, the Municipal Council met to discuss the situation, Hamad said, adding that the case had been referred to Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk “who has the final say in this matter.”

Following a wave of deadly car bombings and suicide attacks that swept Beirut and its southern suburbs in the past two years, the government of former Prime Minister Najib Mikati proposed the installation of the CCTV cameras across the capital in an attempt to prevent further incidents.

In its statement, the Court of Accounts questioned why the Beirut Municipality had temporarily awarded the contract to install 1,500-2000 surveillance cameras around the city to Guardia Systems. It also questioned municipality’s motivation for excluding other qualified companies from involvement in the project.

“The nomination of companies in the way it was done does not conform with the rules applied in the mentioned tender,” the court said.

After reviewing the stages in which the bidding companies were selected, the court said: “It appears that the awarding [of the contract] as it was done does not conform with the measures that should be followed in the case of the restricted tender.

“The municipal council named the accepted bidders without studying their qualifications in advance.”

The court added, “Since this measure has also led to limiting the competition to the five invited companies and subsequently excluded other companies that have qualifications and material and technical capabilities to carry out this kind of deals … this deal lacks the right legal basis and therefore, it needs not to be accepted.”

The Daily Star

Parliament Adopts Domestic Violence Law, Activists Criticize it

A controversial draft-law on domestic violence was approved by the parliament on Tuesday, although it did not meet the expectations of activists supporting the cause.

The draft-law on the protection of women against domestic violence was one of the 70 items on the agenda of a three-day parliamentary session.

Change and Reform MP Ghassan Moukheiber, who played a key role in lobbying for the law, told Agence France Presse: “It is a big step forward in protecting women, we should be proud.”

“We now have a law that provides effective protection for women …

“It’s not the ideal text, but it’s a first step,” Moukheiber said, while stressing that the law must now be enforced.


Earlier, KAFA, a non-governmental organization that supports non-discrimination, gender equality, and women’s rights within the Lebanese society, held a protest near the building of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in downtown Beirut to press MPs to adopt the draft-law with amendments introduced to it.

The protesters chanted slogans against domestic violence and held banners calling for the non-adoption of a “distorted law.”

But a KAFA spokesperson told TV stations that the NGO was not satisfied with the law.

KAFA was calling for parliament’s approval of amendments introduced to it. But MPs adopted the proposed draft-law without changes.

“This is not an achievement for the Lebanese woman because it does not guarantee her full protection,” Maya Ammar, the spokeswoman, said.

Layla Awada, a lawyer from KAFA, called the adoption of the law a “farce.”

Speaker Nabih Berri did not allow any MP to make remarks at the legislative session in collaboration with the lawmakers, she said.

“This is a punishment,” she added.

Awada promised to propose amendments to the law and work on putting it back on parliament’s agenda.

Meanwhile, for the NGO’s Faten Abu Shakra, who led the campaign, the law “does not specifically focus on women.”

She opposed the introduction “by religious men of religious language” into the bill, which fails to specifically refer to marital rape as a crime.

It criminalizes causing “harm”, including “beatings” and “threats”, to obtain sex, but the term “conjugal right” is used without mention of consent.

Moukheiber said the term aimed to appease Lebanon’s powerful clerics, who had been opposed to the bill outright.

According to Rothna Begum of Human Rights Watch, the law is “a positive step forward in ensuring protection for women from domestic violence.”

She told AFP: “It includes positive steps such as providing for restraining orders against abusers; temporary accommodation for the survivors of abuse.”

The law also “assigns a public prosecutor in each of Lebanon’s six governorates to receive complaints and investigate cases of violence; and establishes specialized family violence units within Lebanon’s domestic police to process complaints.”

But “parliament should seek to urgently reform this new law if it is to ensure women full protection from domestic violence including criminalizing marital rape.”

The law passed after a KAFA-led campaign which saw thousands of demonstrators take to the streets of Beirut on March 8, International Women’s Day.

Several Lebanese women have been killed in recent domestic violence cases which have led to a large-scale condemnation on social media.

The Lebanese Forces parliamentary bloc later issued a statement voicing some reservations over the approval of the draft-law, suggesting the inclusion of a few amendments.

It said that the name of the law should be stated as the protection of women from domestic violence, seeing as the draft-law was initially written with the goal of protecting women.

“Any change in the title would make it seem as the law was aimed at protecting the family from domestic violence, which consequently ignores the bitter reality” that women are facing, it remarked in a statement.

In addition, it said that women subject to domestic violence should be able to resort to the General Prosecution or police stations should they seek to report a case.

The General Prosecution is the quickest and least costly resort for the women, explained the LF bloc.

It also addressed the case of marital rape, stressing the need to designate such incidents as crimes, not giving them legal descriptions that apply to laws on beatings and threats.

It therefore demanded the rephrasing of the draft-law’s article on cases of marital rape.

The bloc rejected the use of “the term ‘fulfilling marital sexual rights’ because obtaining such rights through violence, threats, or deception is a form of rape and a violation of human dignity.”

It criticized how the draft-law did not explicitly mention marital rape, saying that the current phrasing “only emphasizes such acts and justifies violence in marriage.”



NATO orders end to cooperation with Russia

BRUSSELS: NATO’s foreign ministers ordered an end to civilian and military cooperation with Russia on Tuesday and told their generals and admirals to quickly figure out ways to better protect alliance members that feel threatened by Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin.

The 28-member alliance, the keystone of U.S. and European security since the end of World War II, was reacting to its most serious crisis in years: Russia’s unilateral annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which the U.S. and its allies have condemned as an illegal land grab.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the other ministers, meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels behind closed doors, unanimously agreed Tuesday on a number of measures. A civilian NATO official who attended the meeting and briefed reporters afterward on condition of anonymity said the steps included:

– The suspension of “all practical civilian and military cooperation” between NATO and Russia. NATO officials said ambassadorial-level contacts will remain open to assure a reliable channel of communication.

– The possible deployment and reinforcement of military assets in eastern NATO members, such as Poland and the Baltic states, that feel menaced by Moscow’s latest actions.

A possible increase of readiness levels for the NATO rapid response force.

A possible review of NATO’s crisis response plans, as well as its military training and exercise schedules.

NATO Supreme Commander Gen. Phil Breedlove and his subordinates will draw up the proposals within a few weeks and then submit them to political leaders for their approval, the NATO official said.

To reassure alliance members closest to Russia and Ukraine, NATO already has stepped up air patrols over the Baltic Sea and AWACS surveillance flights over Poland and Romania.

Prior to the meeting, the chief of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization downplayed reports of a Russian troop withdrawal from areas along its border with Ukraine. Russia’s Defense Ministry on Monday said one battalion – about 500 troops – had pulled back.

“This is not what we have seen,” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters Tuesday. “And this massive military buildup can in no way contribute to a de-escalation of the situation – a de-escalation that we all want to see – so I continue to urge Russia to pull back its troops, live up to its international obligation and engage in a constructive dialogue with Ukraine.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking to reporters in Berlin, echoed those comments.

“(Even if some troops left) it’s certainly not the final step,” she said. “The (Russian) troop concentration on the Ukrainian border is very high.”

An estimated 35,000 to 40,000 Russian troops equipped with tanks, other armored vehicles and fixed and rotary wing aircraft remained positioned near the border with Ukraine, a NATO military official told The Associated Press on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information.

The official described the Russian buildup as “a complete combat force” that was highly threatening to Ukraine.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, who was meeting with his NATO counterparts, planned to speak to reporters later in the day.

In other developments, Russia sharply hiked the price for natural gas to Ukraine and threatened to reclaim billions in previous discounts, raising the heat on Ukraine’s cash-strapped government. In Kiev, Ukrainian police moved to disarm members of a radical nationalist group after a shooting spree in the capital.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier renewed a push for internationally backed direct talks between Russia and Ukraine.

“What will be important in the coming days is getting Russia and Ukraine around a table together,” Steinmeier said at a meeting with his French and Polish counterparts in Weimar, Germany, before heading to Brussels.

Despite annexing Crimea, Putin and other Kremlin officials have said that Russia has no intention of invading other areas of Ukraine. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu insisted Tuesday the Kremlin wants a “political settlement that would take interests and rights of the entire Ukrainian people into account.”

Alexei Miller, the head of Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom natural gas giant, said the company has withdrawn December’s discount that put the price of gas at $268.50 per 1,000 cubic meters and set the price Tuesday at $385.50 per 1,000 cubic meters for the second quarter.

The move is expected to eventually hit Ukrainian consumers hard. Household gas prices in Ukraine are set to rise 50 percent beginning May 1.

The Russian discount was part of a financial lifeline that Putin offered Ukraine’s previous president, Viktor Yanukovych, after his decision to ditch a pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow.

The move fueled three months of protests that sent Yanukovych fleeing to Russia in February.

Also Tuesday, the Russian parliament annulled its deal with Ukraine to rent its Black Sea Fleet’s base in Crimea until 2042 for $98 million a year and discounts for Russian natural gas.

Radical nationalist groups played a key role in Yanukovych’s ouster, but quickly fell out with the new government in Kiev. Many activists are still encamped on Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, and have signaled their intent to remain until the May 25 presidential election.

Last week, one of the leaders of the most prominent radical group, the Right Sector, was shot dead while resisting police. Right Sector members then besieged parliament for hours, demanding the resignation of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. They lifted the blockade after lawmakers set up a panel to investigate the killing.

Late Monday, a Right Sector member shot and wounded three people outside a restaurant adjacent to Independence Square, triggering a standoff that lasted overnight.

Police responded by surrounding the Dnipro Hotel, which Right Sector had commandeered as its headquarters, demanding that the radicals lay down their weapons and leave. Avakov said Right Sector members agreed Tuesday to do so.

The Ukrainian parliament then voted to order police to disarm all illegal armed units. Backers said the move was needed to combat a surge in violent crime and to defuse the risk of provocations by “foreign citizens” in Ukraine’s southern and eastern Russian-speaking regions, where some anti-government groups have rallied for secession.

If police disarm nationalists and other radicals, it would undermine Russia’s allegation that the new Ukrainian government was kowtowing to those groups.
The Daily Star

Infant dies of apparent suffocation in Sidon

SIDON, Lebanon: A one-year-old infant died in a tragic incident in the coastal city of Sidon Tuesday after his mother, apparently rushing to her work, mistakenly left him in the car to suffocate.

Farah Saad, a mother of two children who works as a teacher at a school affiliated with the Al-Makassed Charitable Society in Sidon, everyday drops one kid at his school before taking the infant, Nasser, to a nursery.

After dropping the first kid, Saad, contrary to custom, forgot to take Nasser to the nursery and instead left him in his cart seat for long hours in her car, which was locked and parked in the school’s square.

At the end of the school’s teaching hours, Saad returned to the car to see her son in his cart seat motionless, a scene that shocked the mother and made her collapse.

Upon the mother’s screams, other teachers came and rushed the baby to a nearby hospital in a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to save his life.

After being informed of the incident, the baby’s father came to hospital to see a group of stunned teachers in the corridor trying to soothe the shocked mother.

Speaking to police investigators who came to the hospital, the mother said she thought she had dropped her son at the nursery before coming to her school.

Sidon’s coroner Afif Khafaja examined the baby’s dead body before presenting a report to the General Prosecution.
By Mohammed Zaatari

The Daily Star

White House: Obama has not decided to release Israeli spy

WASHINGTON: U.S. President Barack Obama has not made a decision to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday.

Jonathan Pollard was convicted of espionage and he is serving his sentence,” Carney said.

“I don’t have any other update to provide you on Mr. Pollard’s status. There are obviously a lot of things happening in that arena and I am not going to get ahead of discussions that are under way,” he said.


Kim Kardashian wades into Syria war debate

BEIRUT: Kim Kardashian has waded into Syria’s conflict, calling on fans through Twitter to save the ancient Armenian Christian village of Kassab, whose residents fled as rebels seized control of the hamlet in late March.

She appeared to have bolstered false claims by loyalists of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who said Syrian rebels desecrated the village’s churches and slaughtered residents. She used the #SaveKessab hashtag that was used to spread the false claims, causing its popularity to explode.

“If you don’t know what’s going on in Kessab please google it … As an Armenian, I grew up hearing so many painful stories,” Kardashian wrote in a March 30 tweet, using an alternate spelling of the village’s name. “Please let’s not let history repeat itself!!!!!! Let’s get this trending!!!! #SaveKessab #ArmenianGenocide,” she wrote.

In doing so, the celebrity of Armenian descent underscored how Syria’s war, more than any other in history, has been waged on social media, with both supporters of President Bashar Assad and those opposing his rule using selectively chosen videos and photos, sometimes faked, recycled or altered, to support their grievances.

While wartime propaganda is as old as conflict itself, the Syrian conflict is a particularly unique case where all combatants heavily use social media, opening a window into a conflict that reporters can barely enter.

Kardashian’s use of the two hashtags side-by-side, “#SaveKessab” and “#ArmenianGenocide” also suggested she was also linking the flight of most of Kassab’s 2,000 residents to the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces in the early 20th century.

The event is widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey, however, denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Kardashian’s publicist Ina Treciokas said Kardashian was “just voicing her support for Armenians” and said she had no additional comment.

Kassab’s residents fled after rebels seized their village on March 23, as part of a rebel offensive in the coastal Syrian province of Latakia, Assad’s ancestral heartland.

There are no credible reports that rebels killed any residents, or that they inflicted major damage on churches.

Kardashian appeared to have moved on since.

Her Kassab tweets were followed by a flurry of sultry selfies of her riding on a boat in a skimpy top and long skirt with hashtags like #WishYouWereHere and #WhatALife. She has been posting from Thailand in recent days, including one that shows her sitting at the entry of a temple featuring the Buddha.
Diaa Hadid

Associated Press

Army detains 43 in Tripoli as security plan launched

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Security forces Tuesday detained 43 suspects accused of involvement in Tripoli clashes part of the government-approved security plan to restore stability to the restive northern city, which has been plagued by fighting linked to the crisis in Syria.

Around 1,800 Lebanese Army and security forces personnel deployed in Tripoli in the early hours of the morning and conducted an estimated 40 raids in several neighborhood of the city, Lebanon’s second largest.

The raids included the residence of pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party Secretary-General Rifaat Eid in Jabal Mohsen, where soldiers confiscated two wireless devices and two surveillance cameras among other items, security sources said.

The Army also raided the house of militant Sheikh Omar Bakri, a Tripoli-based Islamist, in the Abu Samra neighborhood in an attempt to detain the preacher as well as the residence of Shadi Mawlawi but the two were not found, according to the sources.

The military detained 18 individuals in Al-Qibbeh, two in Jabal Mohsen and two others in Bab al-Ramel, the sources said.

Soldiers also stormed a pharmacy in al-Qibbeh as well as three arms depots in Jabal Mohsen.

The Army raided the neighborhood of Riva and detained militia leader Jihad Dandashi along with 10 other people including three Syrians. Nine other suspects were also detained in the same area.

Tripoli gunmen and fighters went into hiding in anticipation of the government’s security plan after the military prosecutor issued 200 warrants, including some for militia leaders in the city.

Judge Saqr Saqr issued warrants on charges related to armed clashes, car bombs, killings and attempted murder of civilians and Army soldiers, as well as kidnapping and forgery.

The judicial move indicated the government’s resolve to ensure the successful implementation of the security plan and grants security agencies the right to detain suspects and refer them to the judiciary.

Military and ISF set up 30 checkpoints throughout the city as two Army helicopters flew overhead for surveillance and protection purposes.

The Army began removing the barricades and sandbags erected during armed clashes as several shops and markets opened for business in an attempt to restore normalcy back to the city.

Internet services in Tripoli have been cut off to assist in the implementation of the plan, which was drafted by the Higher Defense Council and approved by the government last week.

President Michel Sleiman followed up on the ongoing security measures with Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi separately at Baabda Palace.

According to his office, the president voiced relief over the measures and “sacrifices to restore stability and preserve the security of the nation and citizens.” He called for dealing firmly with violators of the peace and referring them to the judiciary.

An Army statement spoke briefly about the plan, saying the measures included checkpoints, patrols and raids for wanted people.

“A number of [suspects] have been arrested and handed over to the relevant authorities to take the required measures,” the statement added.

Tripoli has witnessed twenty rounds of Syria-linked clashes between the majority-Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood and the predominantly-Alawite Jabal Mohsen.

At least 30 people were killed in the latest round of fighting between opponents and supporters of President Bashar Assad. The clashes subsided last week after the government approved the defense council’s security plan to restore stability to Tripoli and the Akkar region.

MP Walid Jumblatt mocked Tripoli’s security plan, saying the government’s announcement last week gave militia leaders enough time to flee the city and evade detention.

“Given that the capabilities were magically made available by security and political figures, the security plan for Tripoli went into effect after the city was exhausted with 20 rounds of fighting led by militia leaders in Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen,” Jumblatt said in a statement.

“The funniest thing about the security plan which we can only support … is that it warned in advance all militia leaders of its arrival and so now Rifaat Eid can continue its graduate studies at University of California at Berkeley,” he added


The Daily Star

Send this to friend