Saad Hariri: Lebanese Government must act to end siege of Arsal

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 Saad Hariri: Lebanese Government must act to end siege of Arsal
The Daily Star/11.12.14

BEIRUT: Lebanon must step in to lift the “siege” on the northeastern border town of Arsal by relatives and supporters of a Lebanese captive killed last week, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Scholars Committee said it received promises from Islamist militants that they would send a written commitment to refrain from killing any of the remaining 25 Lebanese captive servicemen, a member of the committee told The Daily Star.

“The government is responsible for ending this blockade and tasking the Army with restoring the state’s prestige,” Hariri wrote on Twitter.

He said the government should also work toward defusing tensions between rival towns in reference to the predominately Sunni Arsal and the mostly Shiite nearby villages of Labweh and Bazzalieh.

“The government must take speedy measures in this regard,” he said. “Similarly,” Hariri added, the government “must make a firm decision that would put an end to the [Lebanese] captives’ crisis and bring [them] back safely.”

Hariri said the killing of Lebanese hostage Ali Bazzal, announced by the Nusra Front Friday, “is a crime all Lebanese should condemn.”

“Arsal’s siege and taking revenge on it serve the captors,” he stressed.

Masked gunmen from Bazzalieh have set up roadblocks and checkpoints on the roads leading from Labweh and Bazzalieh to Arsal during the 48 hours which followed the announcement of Bazzal’s killing.

But although these measures were reduced Tuesday and all checkpoints were removed, some residents of Bazzalieh could still be spotted in cars with tinted windows parked on either side of the road, watching traffic.

The Muslim Scholars Committee also said it would launch an initiative to win the freedom of the captives once it was formally commissioned to do so by the government and after authorities announce accepting in principle a swap-deal to solve the issue.Speaking to The Daily Star, Sheikh Adnan Amama, the spokesperson of the committee, said the captors had promised to send a written commitment to the committee not to kill any of the remaining hostages.

“We asked for a signed written commitment to be presented to media outlets so that we start a new phase,” Amama added.

But he said he was not optimistic that premier Tammam Salam, whom the committee will visit after he returns from an official visit to France, would meet the committee’s two conditions to begin mediations. “Still, we will make efforts to win the freedom of the captives. But we should not be blamed for failure if we haven’t been formally commissioned by the government.”

Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said that a crisis cell tasked by the government had already approved the principle of a swap deal.

“But still there are some parties who are hesitant to pay the price [required by a swap deal],” Abu Faour said during an interview with MTV.

“Usually the strong party procrastinates. But the Lebanese government is the weak party here, the kidnappers have the upper hand in this case,” he added.