Nasrallah signals attack near Arsal imminent
Hezbollah says ready to launch military operation to liberate area from militants
BEIRUT: Declaring that it was time to end the threat posed by militant groups entrenched on the rugged outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah signaled Tuesday that his party would launch a military operation to liberate the area from militant groups.
It was the clearest indication yet about Hezbollah’s readiness to carry out a military operation to oust Daesh (ISIS) and Jabhat Fatah alSham, whose presence on Arsal’s outskirts, he said, is posing an aroundthe-clock threat to all the Lebanese.
In a televised speech marking Iraq’s liberation of Mosul from Daesh, Nasrallah said there was “a last chance” for the militant groups to reach “specific settlements or reconciliation” to leave Arsal’s outskirts peacefully to areas of their choice.
“It’s time to end the threat posed by armed groups on Arsal’s outskirts. There is very little time [for militant groups] to reach specific settlements or reconciliation,” Nasrallah said. “All Daesh networks have been directed from Raqqa in Syria. The groups that exist on Arsal’s outskirts are executive groups that receive instructions from Raqqa or Mosul.”
Nasrallah praised the Lebanese Army’s latest pre-emptive strike on June 30 against militant groups in two Syrian refugee encampments in Arsal near the border with Syria. But he warned that the situation on Arsal’s outskirts has reached “a final point” that needs a solution.
“It has been confirmed that there are those running terrorist networks and suicide bombers and readying explosive devices inside Arsal … But on the outskirts [of Arsal], there is a real problem. A portion of the suicide bombers are coming from the outskirts to the town along with explosive devices,” he said.
“The threat still exists on [Arsal’s] outskirts and this matter needs a solution. This matter might be a divisive one. Let the government shoulder its responsibility and we will support you and back you up,” he said, adding: “If you want us to stay at home, we will, and if you want us to join you, we will. But I think this situation has reached its final point.”
To make his point clear, Nasrallah said: “This is the last time I’ll talk about the outskirts of Arsal. In the end, those present there are posing an around-the-clock threat for all the Lebanese and Lebanese areas.”
Nasrallah greatly appreciated the “huge efforts” made by the Lebanese Army and other security agencies to crack down on sleeper terrorist cells. “There is no doubt of what happened on the Arsal outskirts ... has significantly reduced these dangers, but have not ended them.”
“Had these networks and suicide bombers been able to carry out their plots, the security, economic and tourism situation would have been very difficult,” Nasrallah said.
He added that the current security and stability in Lebanon were not because Daesh, Al-Qaeda or the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham did not want to destabilize the country, but due to the huge efforts made to expose the terror networks and their financiers, supporters and leaders, the latest of which was exposed by the Army Intelligence in Arsal.
Responding to critics of the Army following the death of four Syrian detainees in its custody, Nasrallah said that while “mistakes could have been made” and it should not be used as a way to attack those who “spend night and day” maintaining stability and security in Lebanon.
Nasrallah’s remarks came a day after Prime Minister Saad Hariri strongly opposed Hezbollah’s reported plans to launch a military operation to evict militant groups holed up on Arsal’s outskirts.
He reiterated Hezbollah’s call on the government to talk to the Syrian government to coordinate the return of Syrian refugees to their country, a divisive issue that has seriously jolted Cabinet unity.
“We have called in the past and anew on the Lebanese government to contact the Syrian government and negotiate with it to facilitate the return of displaced Syrians to their homes and villages,” Nasrallah said, adding that Syrians are dispersed across Lebanon.
“The burden is on Syrians, who live in terrible conditions … but also on the [Lebanese] towns,” he said.
“Sadly, this discussion has become political,” Nasrallah said, hitting back at Lebanese politicians who say cooperating with the Syrian regime would legitimize it.
“Today the regime in Syria has embassies around the world … with only a few exceptions. They have an ambassador to the United Nations … the former French president delegitimized him, and now the current one legitimized him,” Nasrallah explained. “They [Syrian government] doesn’t need legitimacy; it is already legitimate.”
“For political and economic regions, we call for the displaced to return because it is in the interest of [both] the displaced and the Lebanese people,” he concluded, dismissing claims that returning refugees would “end up in jail.”
According to Lebanese government estimates, there are 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, straining the country’s battered economy and weak infrastructure and posing security threats. Dozens of Syrian families returned to their country in June in a deal brokered between Hezbollah and Syrian rebel factions.
On another topic, Nasrallah defended Hariri’s Cabinet, saying it should remain in power to address the people’s urgent issues. He rejected attempts to reshuffle the Cabinet or topple it.
“Lebanon’s supreme national interest lies in the continuation of the current government and reactivation of its work. No dispute over any issue should lead to the Cabinet’s fall or a threat by any minister to withdraw from it,” he said.
Nasrallah also called on Parliament to meet to approve the 2017 draft state budget and the public sector’s salary hike bill.
He voiced support for the “Baabda Document” endorsed by the country’s top leaders at their meeting at Baabda Palace to revive the legislative and executive branches following months of paralysis caused by rivals’ discord over a new electoral law.