Lebanon defense minister documents Qaeda activities; opposition denies claims
Lebanon’s Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn announced Tuesday receiving intelligence on the presence of al-Qaeda operatives on Lebanese soil and the smuggling of arms across the border with Syria.
“There is information that militants from al-Qaeda are entering Lebanon pretending they are members of the Syrian opposition and smuggling arms into the country,” Ghosn said in an interview covered by the London-based al-Hayat.
Ghosn explained that the militants enter Lebanon from the Beqaa Valley in the east and particularly through the border town of Ersal in the district of Baalbek.
“It is the responsibility of the army and security forces to intercept those people and stop their activities.”
The minister added that he is going to present the information he has to the cabinet in order for immediate action to be taken.
According to al-Hayat, ministerial sources in Lebanon said that Lebanese Army Commander General Jean Kahwaji had told President Michel Suleiman, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berry, and Prime Minister Najuib Mikati that a Lebanese citizen in the town of Ersal has connections with al-Qaeda and that the army tried to arrest him for interrogation but residents prevented them.
Residents of the town said that the man the army tried to arrest is Syrian and has been living in Ersal for a year. They also stressed that he works there and has no interest in politics.
The information about the man’s ties with al-Qaeda, Kahwaji said, was based on European sources.
According to political analysts, the recent focus on the town of Ersal began for reasons other than terrorism and arms smuggling. According to the analysts, the town received attention because it is on the border with Syria and because Syrian army officers have been infringing on Lebanese sovereignty and firing gunshots inside Lebanese territories. This, they added, left several Lebanese citizens injured and one died a few days ago.
The opposition denied that any smuggling of arms is taking place in Ersal and noted that the deployment of Syrian forces across the border prevents the occurrence of such operations.
The opposition also called upon the government to establish contact with the Syrian authorities to stop any infringement on Lebanese soil on the part of Syrian officers.
The opposition had earlier accused Hezbollah of helping the Syrian army to enter Lebanese territories.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)