Hariri urges necessary steps to end deadly Tripoli fighting

15 May 2012

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri urged Lebanese political, religious and military leaders Monday night to do “whatever it takes” to end clashes in Lebanon’s second city, political sources said, after intensified fighting drove the death toll of three days of armed confrontations to at least seven with another 98 wounded.

Hariri’s media office said the Future Movement leader, who is currently in Saudi Arabia, discussed over the phone the situation in Tripoli with President Michel Sleiman, Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, north Lebanon Mufti Sheikh Malek Shaar and other top officials.

“[Hariri] tackled with them the steps necessary to resolve the explosive situation between Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh in Tripoli and work toward ending the clashes there,” a statement said.

“Hariri stressed that there should be political will and all the necessary means to end the fighting,” a Future Movement source told The Daily Star. “He urged the officials to do whatever it takes to end the violence and restore calm,” the source added.

The street clashes in Tripoli between gunmen loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and those opposed to him began again Monday after an Islamist from the port city was charged with belonging to “a terrorist group” and continued despite the deployment of Lebanese Army troops the day before.

Some March 14 figures in Tripoli blamed the violence on the security forces, which they said should be more heavily deployed in the two neighborhoods, calling on Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is from the city, to resign.By the evening, the Army reportedly began to deploy in locations in Jabal Mohsen and was expected to enter to Bab al-Tabbaneh at 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Security sources said four men had died in the mainly pro-Assad neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, while one person was killed near Bab al-Tabbaneh, a mainly anti-Assad district of Tripoli, since the start of violence.

Haidar Youssef Rashed was killed Monday morning while Bahaa Mohammad Dawoud and Riad Ali Maarouf were killed in the afternoon. Khodr Jalakh died of his wounds Monday night.

Tension and fear gripped the city Monday after both political and security efforts failed to enforce a cease-fire along the demarcation lines between the rival neighborhoods. Loudspeakers on mosques in Beddawi, Wadi an-Nahla and Jabal al-Beddawi repeated warnings to tenants living on upper floors to evacuate as they could be wounded by rocket-propelled grenade fire in the area, said the National News Agency. Mortar shells were also used reportedly for the first time Monday.

Schools and shops closed in Tripoli and streets were deserted.

Tripoli MP Mohammad Kabbara, following a meeting at his residence Monday, said there was a conspiracy against his city “because there is no political decision to end what is occurring and the meeting by the Higher Judicial Council headed by President Michel Sleiman did not [result in] a bona-fide decision to end what is happening.” The Future Movement lawmaker also called on Mikati to either carry out his responsibility or resign.

Akkar MP Mouin Merhebi said the Lebanese Army was not implementing the Higher Defense Council’s decisions, holding it responsible for any “drop of blood that is spilled or life that is lost because of reticence to enter the area of clashes.”

But Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn defended the Army Monday evening. “It will do what it should do, it will deploy and make the necessary decisions, we heard people from across Tripoli calling on the army to be present,” he told OTV. “It will have a stronger presence.”

The violence in Tripoli broke out after the over the arrest Saturday of Shadi Mawlawi, who was reportedly lured by the General Security to an office of Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi’s welfare association in Tripoli.

Military Investigative Judge Nabil Wehbe issued an arrest warrant against Mawlawi Monday evening. Earlier in the day, Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr charged Mawlawi and five others with being members of “a terrorist armed organization” and referred them to First Investigative Magistrate Riad Aby Ghayda.

On orders of Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, the General Security officer who entered the office of Safadi’s welfare association in Tripoli was summoned by his office for a probe into how he carried out the plan that led to Mawlawi’s arrest.

A videotape Monday showed plainclothes General Security personnel, followed by two armed personnel from the security body, arrest Mawlawi shortly after he went up to the office.

Safadi said he insisted on knowing the full details of the “illegal” entry of General Security personnel into his office and was determined to hold accountable those who used his name to lure Mawlawi.

Islamists and other Tripoli residents resumed their sit-in in Nour Square and blocked all streets leading to it after a deadline they set for the release of Mawlawi expired and when they heard that charges had been pressed against him.

Protesters stressed that the sit-in would continue until Mawlawi was released, threatening to escalate action if their demands were not met. Sidon-based Sheikh Ahmad Assir took part in the protest.

Tarek Shandab, Mawlawi’s attorney, denied that his client had any links to an armed terrorist group. “He enthusiastically supports the Syrian revolution just like other people of Tripoli. He is not a member of Al-Qaeda,” he told The Daily Star.

“The military investigative magistrate has had Shadi’s judicial report for two weeks and he could have been brought in [for investigation] on a summoning warrant,” he said. “Shadi was kidnapped based on information from Syria.”

Mawlawi, 25, hails from the Qibbeh neighborhood of Tripoli and works in a grocery store.

Shandab said Mawlawi had gone to Safadi’s office after he was told over the phone he would receive LL750,000 to pay for treatment for his disabled daughter.

Meanwhile, President Sleiman warned against the dangers of a deteriorating security situation in Lebanon in light of developments in the region, and hoped that politicians would shoulder their national responsibilities.

For his part, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt accused some security bodies in Lebanon of inflating the Salafist danger in Lebanon under Syrian orders.

“The events and tension taking place cannot be separated from the insistence of some security bodies, apparently inspired by [orders from] Syria, to consider Salafism an extreme evil,” Jumblatt wrote in his weekly editorial at PSP’s newspaper Al-Anbaa.

“Why is there continuous insistence on blowing the Salafist danger out of proportion? And is Salafism one intellectual school?” the PSP leader asked. “How much of a presence does it have in Lebanon?”

Nabatieh MP Mohammad Raad, the head of Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc, said the events taking place in Tripoli were the result of sectarian incitement sparked by some groups in the city.

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has telephoned Mikati more than once over the past two days to follow up on developments in Tripoli, according to a statement by the Sidon MP’s office. Siniora said that the Army enjoyed full political backing in its mission to punish any person who sabotages security in the city and in restoring stability.

Separately, a Lebanese government source denied Mikati had received any messages from Damascus demanding that Lebanon change its “disassociation” policy toward the Syrian crisis.

Mikati has “not received any message from anybody in this regard,” a source speaking on behalf of the prime minister told The Daily Star in response to a report in the local daily An-Nahar.

An-Nahar said Syria has been demanding that Mikati’s government go back on its disassociation policy toward the Syria crisis. The daily added that Mikati had received the message through an unidentified intermediary.

“Lebanon will carry on with its disassociation policy,” the source added.

© Copyright The Daily Star 2012.


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