BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Army chief Wednesday declared there would be no truce with terrorists who attack soldiers, dismissing rumors that a secret compromise with militants was forged to end this week’s crisis in Tripoli. Gen. Jean Kahwagi vowed to hunt down Islamist militants during a visit to the families of two soldiers killed during the four-day military offensive against jihadists in north Lebanon that ended Monday. “There will be no compromise or truce with the soldier-killers,” Kahwagi said in remarks carried by the state-run National News Agency. He reiterated the Army’s position against striking any deal with militants, insisting that the clashes ended after the jihadists crumbled, and not because of a secret agreement. “Each party that attacked the Army is considered a terrorist,” Kahwagi added.
The fighting that killed 42 people, including eight civilians and 11 Army troops, was among the fiercest bouts of Syria-related violence in the northern port city since the 2011 outbreak of the neighboring war. But Shadi Mawlawi and Osama Mansur, two jihadist leaders who were involved in the clashes, disappeared as the Army moved into their embattled neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh, leading some to suspect a secret compromise. The Army chief’s remarks were made during Kahwagi’s visits to families of Maj. Jihad Haber and Capt. Firas al-Hakim in the towns of Mansourieh, Bhamdoun and Aley Wednesday afternoon. He commended the fallen soldiers’ “momentous sacrifices during the battle,” promising that “their blood and the blood of their military companions would not go to waste.” Kahwagi’s comments came as the Army launched widespread raids in the north, arresting 16 suspected militants. Troops raided suspected militant hideouts in Tripoli’s neighborhood of Abi Samra, arresting eight people, including three Syrians, and confiscated three automatic rifles, a rocket-propelled grenade and 10 hand grenades, in addition to ammunition and military gear, an Army statement said. Similar raids were carried out on Syrian refugee gatherings in the area of Minyeh, during which eight people were apprehended on suspicion of having links to terrorist groups, it added. Earlier Wednesday, the Army raided an apartment in Abi Samra which was occupied by fundamentalist preacher Sheikh Khaled Hablas, confiscating a computer, security sources told The Daily Star.
By midday, the Army arrested one of Hablas’ supporters, identified by his last name Khalaf. The Army said in a separate statement Wednesday that three gunmen had turned themselves in. It also issued a strongly worded statement Monday warning militants to hand themselves over, or be hunted down. Hablas, who was previously seen as a low-key figure, preaches at Haroun Mosque in his hometown of Bhenin in the district of Minyeh, north of Tripoli. He is also an outspoken opponent of the military. The Army carrying out raids beginning in the early morning over a large perimeter stretching between Abi Samra and Dahr al-Ain, including Wadi Haab in the region of Koura. Helicopter gunships backed ground troops as they searched for the runaway militants involved in the fighting in Tripoli. Soldiers redeployed heavily in Abi Samra, conducting patrols and setting up fixed and roving checkpoints on the roads leading to the battered neighborhoods.
About 200 suspects have been arrested since the fighting erupted last Friday. In the meantime, schools and universities in the city reopened after several days of forced closure. Residents displaced by the fighting continued to return gradually to Tripoli’s battered Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood, where much of the fighting was centered. Local sources said that some residents returned to check on their belongings, amid calls for government assistance to help them repair their damaged property.But dozens of shops and businesses remained closed Wednesday, with some parts of the neighborhood in complete ruins. The Army’s campaign spread to the south in Sidon, where it found six bomb detonators, rifles and ammunition in an abandoned house in the area of Sirob, a military statement said.
The military also arrested a suspected militant in connection with a foiled attack against an Army headquarters and a Hezbollah complex in Sidon, security sources told The Daily Star. The residence of suspect Abdel-Rahman Hallaq overlooks Hezbollah’s Fatima Zahra Compound, which houses a Shiite mosque, an infirmary and a lecture hall. Army troops also raided several informal refugee settlements in the area of Sharhabil, arresting three Syrians for not possessing legal documents, they added.
An Army source said the situation in Sidon was not dangerous and measures there were intended as precautionary. Additional reporting by Antoine Amrieh