Row over Lebanon’s al-Tufail to Be Resolved as Mashnouq Vows Residents’ Safe Return
Caroline Akoum/Asharq Al-Awsat English/May 12/17/
Beirut – The dispute in the Lebanese border town of al-Tufail is nearing its end after safe passage has been achieved for its residents to return home following their displacement as a result of the unrest in neighboring Syria. Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq vowed on Thursday that he will exert more efforts to oversee their passage “in coordination with the Army Command, Internal Security Forces and General Security.”
A dispute had erupted between the minister and “Hezbollah” after the latter informed the residents that they may return to their town after three years of displacement. They were set to go back on Tuesday. The party had said that this return was being coordinated with the security forces, which Mashnouq had denied and which consequently led to a delay in their return. The minister’s sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that efforts are being exerted to ensure the return of the residents, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, in the upcoming days. “The most important thing for now is the presence of the state in this Lebanese town through having each concerned body perform its necessary role and focus on security issues that will reassure the residents,” they added.
“Hezbollah” Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah had meanwhile sought to also reassure them, by saying: “If our military presence was an obstacle to your return, then today I declare that our presence there is over and everyone can go back.”The residents were forced to flee al-Tufail in 2014 in light of battles that erupted between the party and Syrian opposition factions. “Hezbollah” then entered the town, forcing Lebanese and Syrian families who have been living there for dozens of years to leave. Only 12 families chose to stay.
Mashnouq acknowledged in recent meetings with the residents the two previous Lebanese governments’ “shortcomings” in tackling their case. The residents informed the minister of the harsh conditions they are enduring, demanding that he speed up their return home. Their most important demand was the deployment of state security agencies in al-Tufail. Mashnouq pledged to relay these demands to President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Mashnouq had chaired on Thursday an extraordinary meeting for the central security council. The gatherers agreed that concerned security and military agencies should oversee the safe passage of the residents to and from al-Tufail and also provide the logistic needs of the residents of nearby villages. Mayor of al-Tufail Ali al-Shoum revealed after meeting the interior minister that he had pledged to pave the road leading to the town, while former Baalbek – al-Hermel Mufti Sheikh Bakr al-Rifai said that the issue will “soon be positively resolved after the setbacks a few days ago.”
“The state will gradually resume its duties in the town and we are awaiting a signal from the army to return,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat. A security source revealed that the army will deploy throughout the region extending between the outskirts of Brital and al-Tufail to ensure safe passage. The road through Brital will also be paved after the locals used to access a dirt road. Residents had meanwhile refused to give their names to “Hezbollah” and al-Rifai said that the names are now in the hands of the Lebanese army.
There are around 100 Lebanese families and 50 Syrian ones that have opted to go back to al-Tufail after three years of displacement. Some of the residents acknowledged to Asharq Al-Awsat that even though the state is overseeing their return, it inevitably has to coordinate with “Hezbollah” because “it is capable of protecting our passage through Brital and prevent the Syrian regime from attacking us once we are back.”
Al-Tufail is located in the eastern most outskirts of Lebanon’s eastern mountain range that borders Syria. Al-Tufail can be clearly seen on the map as “finger” that extends into Syria and disputes had erupted between Beirut and Damascus over it until it was officially included as part of Lebanon in 1925 even though it still suffers from the neglect of the Lebanese state. It residents even lead more of a “Syrian life” than a Lebanese one.
In April 2014, Lebanese security agencies entered al-Tufail for the first time since Lebanon’s independence. The agencies at the time had delivered aid to families that were under siege for three months by Syrian regime forces and “Hezbollah”.
Nasrallah Announces Hezbollah’s Withdrawal from Lebanese-Syrian Border
Asharq Al-Awsat English/May 12/17/Beirut – “Hezbollah” Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared on Thursday that the party “competed its mission” along Lebanon’s border with Syria, leaving the arena to the Lebanese state. He announced that “Hezbollah” has “dismantled its positions” along the border, but noted that there is “no end in sight” to the battle on the outskirts of the northeastern border region of Arsal. He made his declaration during a speech marking the first anniversary of the assassination of party military commander Mustafa Badreddine in Syria.
“The developments are positive on the eastern border between Lebanon and Syria and they have become very safe,” he added. “We, in the resistance, entered those mountains and spent difficult days and nights. We offered martyrs and now our presence is no longer needed,” Nasrallah stated. “We dismantled our positions and we will continue to dismantle the remaining military posts along the Lebanese side of the border because our mission is complete and the responsibility now lies on the Lebanese state,” he remarked. “We are not a substitute to the state and Lebanese army,” stressed Nasrallah.
Despite announcing the completion of “Hezbollah’s” mission, he acknowledged that the battle on the outskirts of Arsal will continue. “We are prepared to ensure a settlement because the state is not prepared to negotiate with the Syrian government. Regarding the refugees in the camps in Arsal, we are prepared to contact the Syrian regime to return as many of them as possible to their towns and villages. We have no problem with this,” he said. Nasrallah called for cooperation “because the armed presence on the outskirts has become a burden on Arsal and the people. It is therefore best if these issues are addressed to avoid bloodshed.”