Lebanon News

Army source denies plans to close roads to suburbs

Workers at the gas centers protest in Bir Hasan, Tuesday, March 4, 2014. (The Daily Star/Stringer)

BEIRUT: A Lebanese Army source Tuesday denied reports that the military establishment was planning to restrict access to Beirut’s southern suburbs to only seven entrances to prevent the entry of rigged cars.

“That is not true at all,” the source told The Daily Star, requesting to remain anonymous. “The Army leadership has no such intention. ... We will keep the same security measures.”

The source said there were over 100 entrances to the southern suburbs, all monitored by checkpoints manned by the Lebanese Army, Internal Security Forces and General Security personnel.

“No car can enter without stopping at a checkpoint,” he said.

Reports emerged in recent days that the Lebanese Army would keep just seven entrances to the area open. Associated with Hezbollah, the southern suburbs have witnessed a wave of car bomb attacks in recent months, most involving suicide bombers that have killed dozens and wounded hundreds.

The bulk of the attacks were claimed by Syrian rebel groups, which said they were acting in retaliation for the party’s involvement in Syria’s war alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad. Hezbollah, a staunch ally of Assad, announced it was joining Syria’s war last spring.

In light of the attacks, Hezbollah erected checkpoints across the southern suburbs last August in a bid to curb the wave of bombings.

But the party handed over the checkpoints to the Lebanese Army, ISF and General Security a month later after authorities announced a plan to preserve security in the area.

The source said that side roads leading to the southern suburbs were closed following the initial explosions last summer, before the Lebanese Army and other security bodies took charge of checkpoints.

Other security sources told The Daily Star that authorities had already closed some entrances to the southern suburbs when they began implementing the new security plan last September.

The sources said that security bodies could restrict the number of entrances to the southern suburbs, which could vary from seven to even two, every time information about rigged cars heading toward the area was received by intelligence.

The sources said the Lebanese Army, the ISF and General Security were coordinating with Hezbollah in order to preserve security in the southern suburbs.

Separately, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk chaired a meeting for the Central Security Council at the Interior Ministry in the Beirut neighborhood Sanayeh attended by acting-State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud and top security officials.

Machnouk stressed that all security bodies should work together to combat terrorism.

He also highlighted the need to prevent car thefts, as some stolen vehicles were moving through illegal border crossings and being used in terrorist activity in Lebanon.

The council also confirmed Machnouk’s earlier decision to temporary close two centers where gas canisters are refilled in Bir Hasan south of Beirut and in nearby Ouzai, along with the Al-Nour Company’s refilling center.

The move came after authorities received information that the three centers could be attacked by suicide bombers. The council also made a number of other decisions that remained secret.

In a related incident, employees working at the centers in Bir Hasan and Ouzai briefly blocked a nearby road Tuesday morning in protest of the Interior Ministry’s decision that took effect Monday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 05, 2014, on page 3.




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