Political-Security Talks at Grand Serail, Saniora Says Army Promised Violations against Civilians in Sidon Will Stopإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Head of al-Mustaqbal bloc MP Fouad Saniora on Friday said Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji promised to probe “abuses” against some civilians in Sidon, stressing that the southern city will not be a “scene for violations.”
Saniora voiced his remarks during a meeting at the Grand Serail that was attended by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati, Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, cabinet secretary-general Suheil Bouji, Army chief Qahwaji, Sidon's mufti Sheikh Salim Sousan, acting prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud, army intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Edmond Fadel, Higher Defense Council chief Maj. Gen. Mohammed Kheir, Sidon Municipality chief Mohammed al-Saudi and Abra Municipality chief Walid Mshantaf.
“We stressed our keenness on strengthening security institutions and their important role in preserving civil peace,” said Saniora at a press conference after the meeting.
“We underlined that we totally reject any attack on the Lebanese army, whatever its source may be, and any army martyr is the martyr of Lebanon and Sidon,” he added.
Saniora said the talks were an occasion to “remind of Sidon's role in preserving civil peace and coexistence.”
“We expressed our remarks to the army commander in a very clear manner, especially after it turned out that elements other than army troops intervened in the operations and took part in shelling the city, which created resentment among the Lebanese and Tripoli's residents, and this thing must be avoided,” he added.
“We sensed great keenness from the army commander and the intelligence chief on discussing all the violations. They promised to launch a comprehensive probe and measures to address the aftermath of the military operation and pursue those who took part in the crime,” Saniora revealed.
“What happened -- and there are many evidences -- is that violations and abuses were committed against people, which led to the death of some of them, and we warn against any similar acts in the future,” he went on to say.
“Let it be clear, Sidon will not accept to be a scene for violations,” Saniora stressed.
A rights watchdog on Friday demanded a probe into alleged abuse of detainees after the deadly battle in the Sidon suburb of Abra between the army and supporters of Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir.
Human Rights Watch said there must be an independent investigation into claims the army is committing abuses against people suspected of links to the weekend clashes in which 18 soldiers were killed.
The fighting highlighted widespread Sunni resentment against the army, accused of siding with Hizbullah and being selective in its crackdown on armed groups.
Referring to the crackdown launched by the army in the wake of the battle, Saniora said: “We have received a list containing the names of detainees and a list of the names of the dead.”
Sidon residents claim the bodies of those killed while fighting alongside Asir have not been given to their families.
“There is extreme anger in the city of Sidon and major resentment and this is a very dangerous issue that goes beyond Sidon and serious measures must be taken,” Saniora warned.
“We stressed that human rights must be fully respected as we are not in Guantanamo and this is an unacceptable thing and must come to an end, and the army commander promised us that this will all stop,” he added.
“We are very keen on the army and every drop of blood that falls from any soldier is a drop of blood that falls from all the Lebanese. We extend our hand to the state and to our brothers in this country and tell them, 'let us turn this anger among the people of Sidon into support for the state and its prestige and role,'” Saniora suggested.
He emphasized that the state must have the exclusive authority in the country.
“I hope Sidon will be free of arms,” Saniora said.
For her part, MP Hariri said: “I tell our people in Sidon and Lebanon that we will turn the anger into real will to achieve stability and restore peace in the city.”
“The will of all the Lebanese and Sidon's residents is needed to launch civil initiatives,” she said.
“We have a strong will to turn Sidon into an example for stability in Lebanon,” she went on to say.
Hariri described the aftermath of the clashes as "another February 14," referring to the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri.
As the meeting got underway earlier on Friday, Miqati called for holding accountable the gunmen who attacked the army in Sidon during clashes with supporters of al-Asir, but he rejected “the harassment of innocent civilians.”
"Attacks on the Lebanese army are categorically rejected, whichever side they may come from, because the military institution is the security valve of the Lebanese state and its legitimate institutions," said Miqati.
He called on the Army Command, "whom we appreciate its wisdom and ethical conduct, to address the complaints in Sidon objectively and to deal with citizens with extreme wisdom and care, as they must not all be treated as if they are guilty and involved in the clashes.”
"Those responsible for the attack on the army must be held accoubtable by the judiciary, but there are innocents who have nothing to do with what happened and it is unacceptable to harass them or violate the law in dealing with them," Miqati added.
He urged an "instant end to any violations to prevent that they be exploited," calling on all citizens to "trust the military institution and deal with its members as if they are brothers and friends and not to attack the military institution's role and sacrifices."
The fighting in Abra outside Sidon was among the worst in Lebanon since the outbreak of conflict in neighboring Syria 27 months ago deepened sectarian tensions.
On Thursday, the army handed over to the military police soldiers suspected of humiliating and beating a man suspected of ties to al-Asir. A military source told Agence France Presse: "We do not accept this kind of behavior."
Sunni clerics, meanwhile, distributed images via Facebook of a body bearing marks of a severe beating.
The body was identified as Nader al-Bayoumy, whom the Association of Muslim Scholars said had "handed himself in" after the Abra clash.