Lebanon News

Officials vow to push ahead with crackdown

BEIRUT: Caretaker Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud vowed Thursday to forge ahead with a crackdown on illegal construction works in southern Lebanon and Beirut’s southern suburbs come what may, saying that the state’s prestige was a stake.

“The Interior Ministry will continue the crackdown on illegal building on state property in implementation of the law and the Central Security Council’s decision,” Baroud told The Daily Star.

Baroud’s remarks came hours after two people were killed and two others wounded in a clash related to illegally built houses in Tyre as security forces, backed by army troops, sought to dismantle houses and buildings constructed illegally on state or private property. Security forces also clashed with residents in the southern suburb of Ouzai near Beirut airport as they tried to dismantle illegally built houses, but no injuries were reported.

Asked whether he had secured the Cabinet’s go-ahead for the crackdown, Baroud said that since the Cabinet has resigned and was serving in a caretaker capacity, it cannot meet. “I am applying the law concerning the illegal construction. There is an attack on state property which is the people’s property. I don’t need a political decision from the Cabinet,” he said.

Baroud said the crackdown on illegal building had the support of President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri, caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri as well as the dominant political parties in areas where the illegal construction is taking place – Hezbollah and the Amal Movement led by Berri.

Earlier Thursday, Baroud chaired an emergency meeting of the Central Security Council to address a wave of illegal building on public property and violations in private property in south Lebanon and south of Beirut.

“The council has decided to continue the crackdown on illegal building on public property according to a plan drawn up by the Internal Security Forces in coordination with the army and backing from military forces,” Baroud said in a statement.

Security forces earlier this month launched a crackdown on illegally constructed buildings on public lands, particularly in Hezbollah-controlled areas in southern Lebanon and the south of Beirut. Six policemen were injured Monday when they were attacked by residents of a southern suburb of Beirut as their patrol tried to close down illegal houses in the area.

Earlier Thursday, Hariri chaired a security meeting at his Downtown Beirut residence to discuss the incidents in the south and the southern suburbs when security forces cracked down on illegal building violations. The meeting was attended by Baroud, army commander General Jean Kahwagi, ISF commander Major General Ashraf Rifi and ISF’s Information Branch chief Colonel Wissam al-Hassan.

While the participants decided to launch an investigation into the incidents, they stressed that security forces would continue the campaign to prevent illegal building on public and private property and chase violators, said a statement released by Hariri’s office.

Sleiman also followed up with politicians and security officials measures taken to prevent illegal building on public property and in the area surrounding the Beirut airport, said a Baabda Palace statement.

Caretaker Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi called Sleiman, Berri, Baroud and Hezbollah officials, urging them to take a quick action to stop the illegal construction of houses on state properties around Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, saying it posed a danger to the safety of aviation in the vicinity of the airport.

“There should be no leniency in dealing with this matter because it transcends infringement on public property, to posing a permanent threat and a possible attack at any minute on the life of people and their safety with regard to flying,” Aridi said. Later, the minister added that lifting “political cover” from violators was essential to help solve the problem of illegal construction.

“The problem of illegal construction on state property can be solved when violators are not protected by political parties. The army and security forces can then eliminate the violations,” Aridi told The Daily Star by telephone.

He said the illegal building of houses near the airport’s walls began a few days ago, jeopardizing aviation safety.

“The airport is a special case. It cannot tolerate political differences or polarization,” he said. Aridi added that Berri and Hezbollah have promised violators would enjoy no political cover.

Hezbollah’s caretaker Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish said his party lifted the political cover from violators a long time ago. “Hezbollah does not protect or cover any violator in any area. I call on the army and security forces to assume their responsibility by cracking down on the illegal building on state property,” Fneish told The Daily Star.

Although Hezbollah wields influence in the south and Beirut’s southern suburbs, Fneish said: “There is no place off limits to Lebanese security forces, neither in the [southern] suburbs, nor in the south.”

Hezbollah and Amal declared that they did not protect violators and called on security forces to stop the illegal construction by legal means. A statement issued after talks held at the headquarters of the Union of Southern Suburbs Municipalities attended by Hezbollah and Amal representatives condemned the illegal building on public and private property and around the airport.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 22, 2011, on page 2.

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