x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Lebanon steps up security over unrest

The security plan comes during a period of heightened tension in Lebanon and following an attack on the Beirut headquarters of the Al Jadeed Television station by several armed men on Monday night.

BEIRUT // Lebanon's interior ministry yesterday launched a month-long, countrywide security initiative, amid several outbreaks of unrest in the capital, including attempts to block roads with burning tyres.

Marwan Charbel, the minister of interior, was in the south Beirut suburb of Mcharafieh yesterday to launch the measure, which will be carried out by police, supported by the Lebanese army. Police patrols, checkpoints and raids targeting people wanted by authorities are expected to be increased.

The security plan comes during a period of heightened tension in Lebanon and following an attack on the Beirut headquarters of the Al Jadeed Television station by several armed men on Monday night.

Police believe the attack came in response to an interview broadcast on the station last Sunday with Sheikh Ahmed Al Assir in which the Sunni cleric - who has recently come to prominence for his support for the Syrian uprising - openly criticised Lebanese Shiite leaders.

One suspect was arrested shortly after the attack, which led to further troubles as men tried to block several roads with burning tyres.

Further attempts to cutoff roads were reportedly carried out yesterday in protest against the suspect's detention.

A group of men gathered outside the offices of the Future Television station in central Beirut yesterday to protest against the arrest of the man who was identified by the state-run National News Agency as Wissam Alaeddine.

There have been rising tensions in Lebanon in recent months, in particular between groups within the Sunni and Shiite communities, which have been inflamed by the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict across the border in Syria.

The Lebanese Shia movement Hizbollah and other groups have continued to back the regime of the Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, while some Sunni groups support the Syrian rebels.

The Lebanese government has said it is committed to "disassociating" from the Syrian crisis, as a way to preserve stability in Lebanon.

Mr Charbel, the interior minister, yesterday told reporters that his security plan was launched in Beirut's southern Dahiyeh district because "people keep saying that security does not exist in the southern suburbs", Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper reported.

Dahiyeh is known as a stronghold of Hizbollah, which operates its own security apparatus.

The interior minister was also quoted as saying he hoped all political groups would try to calm tensions in the country, assist in efforts to tackle criminal activity and improve security.

A source at the ministry of interior said the initiative would tackle everything from traffic violations to efforts to capture criminals.

"Some call it a security month, but security is not a seasonal matter," said Najib Mikati, Lebanon's prime minister, according to the Daily Star. "Security should be durable. Therefore, this month will be a test for us to follow at all times."

However, Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, dismissed the initiative as nothing more than a "public-relations stunt".

"Those who want to engage in subversive actions won't stop because of this," he said."The government knows it is under pressure because of the situation in Syria and is trying to give the impression that it has everything under control."

zconstantine@thenational.ae