BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for calm during a meeting of the Supreme Council of Defense on Monday, after the killing two members of Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Al-Gharib’s entourage at Mount Lebanon on Sunday.
The council announced that security had been restored across the region in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Two other people were also wounded.
Political turmoil in Lebanon exploded on Sunday during the visit of Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), to the western Shahhar region.
Supporters of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), headed by Walid Jumblatt, protested Bassil’s visit and clashed with the convoy of Minister Al-Gharib, who is loyal to the Lebanese Democratic Party, led by Talal Arslan, an ally of Bassil and Jumblatt’s rival.
Hezbollah announced on Sunday night their full solidarity with Arslan, to which Jumblatt responded: “I wish the upstarts in politics would understand the delicate balance (of) governing the mountain.”
Interior Minister Raya Al-Hassan said on Monday that things were headed toward a de-escalation, in light of massive Lebanese army deployments to the area.
However, tension has continued, fueled by social media. A photo of Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc has reportedly been circulating online, with a caption stating: “We want to kill each one of you wherever you are.”
In response to the photo, MP Marwan Hamadeh, a PSP official, wrote on Twitter: “We will investigate the matter. This kind of threat does not affect us, and this is not the security we want.”
Arslan’s rhetoric during a press conference held after receiving a presidential delegation urging him to de-escalate was defiant.
“What happened was an attempt to assassinate Minister Al-Gharib. His convoy was shot from several directions in a treacherous manner, and his vehicle was hit by about 19 bullets,” he said.
Arslan accused Minister Akram Chehayeb — without naming him — of being “a man of strife who sits at the Cabinet table without respecting the simplest rules of coexistence.”
Chehayeb had said that while the Sunday events unfolded, he had been making calls to prevent protests in the Mount Lebanon area.
Arslan also criticized Walid Jumblatt, and said: “The man who shed the blood of the Druze in Idlib, Jabal Al-Arab, Mount Hermon and Golan is not unlikely to shed our blood.”
He criticized the Lebanese army and how it had dealt with the incident. He said he would inform the president of the names of those involved in the incident.
“If the state does not want to impose its prestige and existence, we know how to protect ourselves,” he added.
Al-Akhbar, a pro-Hezbollah daily newspaper, accused Jumblatt on Monday of wanting to “continue to control the mountain while insisting on denying reality.”
The media officer of the PSP, Rami Rayes, told Arab News: “The decision of the Supreme Council of Defense is unfair, but we have adopted a calm and reasonable stance and we believe that it is only respectful to bury the dead. We had buried our men who were killed during the Choueifat events a year ago, and Talal Arslan protected the man who was suspected of murdering them and smuggled him across the border into Syria. Justice here cannot be selective. We resort to justice and we abide by the law.”