Govt. Fails to Enforce New Visa Rules on Gulf Citizens as Salam Vows to Confront 'Terror Scheme'

The Lebanese government failed on Thursday to enforce stronger entry measures against Gulf citizens after the involvement of Saudis in terrorist activities in the country, as Prime Minister Tammam Salam vowed to confront the “fierce, immoral and inhumane terrorist campaign.”

The cabinet members discussed the visas issue during a session held at the Grand Serail after As Safir newspaper reported that the authorities were mulling to force Gulf citizens to apply for visas at Lebanese missions in their countries rather than getting the visas upon their arrival in Beirut.

Such a measure would be based on reciprocity because Lebanese citizens are required to apply for visas at the consulates of the Gulf countries in Beirut, the daily said.

As Safir added that the move would obstruct the possible entry of suspected terrorists to Beirut and provide security for tourists wanting to visit Lebanon.

Ahead of the cabinet session, Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi said there was no need to impose the visa rules.

“If the issue was put up to vote in the cabinet, it should also include Iranian citizens,” said Rifi who is a member of the March 14 alliance's al-Mustaqbal movement that opposes Iran-backed Hizbullah.

Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq, also an al-Mustaqbal member, said the rules were “out of the question.”

“We are keen on our ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council,” he said.

Saudi Ambassador Ali Awadh Asiri told LBCI, however, that Riyadh respects the decision of the Lebanese authorities if they decided to impose visa rules on Saudis.

At a press conference after the cabinet session, PM Salam said “we need all people, especially citizens from the Gulf region."

"It is our duty to boost our preemptive measures to prevent the infiltration of anyone seeking to harm our country," he added.

“The citizens' awareness and intuition is complementing the work of security agencies,” Salam said, adding that “there is a fierce, immoral and inhumane terrorist campaign against the country and they want to undermine our national unity.”

But the premier reassured that “the issue of preserving the atmosphere of national unity is in our hands, not in the hands of these criminals.”

“We are foiling their objectives and this enhances our internal unity and we're determined to continue all measures that boost this confrontation,” said Salam.

“The measures and the steps required to preserve the country's security will not stop and I salute all security agencies over this preemptive effort, which is thwarting strife plots in the country,” the PM added.

Criticizing the extensive media coverage of the latest security incidents, Salam urged media outlets to “be careful in covering these security incidents,” saying it is not in the country's interest to “expose all things to this extent.”

Turning to the mechanism of cabinet's work during the presidential vacuum, Salam said: “Nowadays, the cabinet's permanent mission is facilitating the work of the executive authority in the country, but today it has assumed presidential powers.”

“We're always urging everyone to exert all efforts to elect a president. We won't engage in disputes over managing our responsibilities as every issue must be subject to consensus among the government's components and political forces complied with this,” the PM added.

“We discussed the agenda and adopted the issues that enjoyed consensus. I sought with all political forces to endorse consensus in practicing our role and jurisdiction and we will put aside any issue that does not enjoy consensus in cabinet,” Salam stated.

He said some agenda items require decrees and others do not require such an authorization.

“This also applies to normal decrees that are not on the agenda, which will be discussed during the sessions and the signatures will be made through consensus,” said Salam.

“Some might say that these decrees can be appealed but we're trying to grant them the highest level of legitimacy. We're keen to facilitate the issues that have to do with citizens' affairs,” he pointed out.

“Decrees will be issued as usual and we'll seek to facilitate the work of cabinet and all state administrations,” Salam said, adding that “things will be endorsed through consensus” or through a vote in absence of unanimity.

Several suicide bombers who have struck areas across Beirut have had Gulf citizenship.

On Wednesday, a Saudi blew himself up in his room at Duroy Hotel, located in Beirut's Raouche seafront, as General Security officers raided the premises.

They detained a second suspected Saudi bomber in the sweep. A third person is on the run.

A string of security incidents over the past week has rattled Lebanon, and Beirut in particular, after what had been a calm and stable stretch of several months.

On Monday, a suicide bomber blew himself up near a checkpoint in Beirut's Tayyouneh area, killing a General Security officer.

Another bombing in eastern Lebanon's Dahr al-Baydar area last week killed a police officer.



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