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Monday, Nov 28, 2022

Lebanese security remains robust despite presidential vacuum, minister says

Lebanese security remains robust despite presidential vacuum, minister says

As the Lebanese state continues to operate without a new president in place, the security services will take all necessary steps to maintain order, the country’s acting interior minister said on Tuesday.
Following a meeting with the Central Internal Security Council, caretaker minister Bassam Mawlawi said security is something all Lebanese require and “it is the duty of security bodies to maintain it using all available means.”

He said the number of crimes is “low compared to the same period last year” and “the situation in the Syrian refugee camps is highly under control.” Members of eight terrorist cells have been arrested this year, he added.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese army command announced that some units “have conducted exercises that simulate dealing with protesters, conducting raids and arresting wanted persons in Amchit, Tripoli, Jbeil, Beirut and Saida.”

The exercises “are part of the training following the concept of counterterrorism operations SOFEX 2022, implemented with the participation of American and British training teams,” the command said. An exercise in the coastal city of Jounieh simulated the handling of a security incident inside a bank and the arrest of the perpetrators. In recent weeks, amid growing frustration among bank customers over not being allowed to withdraw their savings, a number of customers, some armed, have stormed banks demanding their cash.

Army chief Joseph Aoun said: “This presidential vacuum period that the country is witnessing amid political tensions between parties might be accompanied by attempts to exploit the situation in order to compromise security.”

The presidential vacuum, following the conclusion of President Michel Aoun’s term at the end of October without any agreement among parties on a replacement, entered its second week on Tuesday and there appeared little hope that a new president would be chosen on Thursday during a fifth parliamentary session called by speaker Nabih Berri.

Meanwhile, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati is attending the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, in Sharm El-Sheikh. On the sidelines of the event he met on Tuesday with French President Emmanuel Macron, who emphasized the need as a matter of “priority to carry out the Lebanese presidential elections, in order to achieve the regular functioning of institutions,” according to Mikati’s media office.

Hezbollah and its allies have yet to announce their preferred presidential candidate. Parliamentary blocs that oppose Hezbollah have nominated MP Michel Mouawad, while independent MPs have nominated academician Issam Khalifeh.

Army chief Aoun said that his troops are not involved in the political conflicts and will not take sides.

“What matters to the army, first and foremost, is maintaining stability and civil peace,” he said. “We will not let anyone take advantage of the situation and turn our country into an arena susceptible to security incidents and suspicious movements. Security disruption is not allowed. It has always been one of the army’s fundamental constants and will remain so.”

Rami Rayyes, an adviser to the head of the Progressive Socialist Party, told Arab News: “The greater the political exposure in Lebanon, the higher the risk of economic and security deterioration, especially in the absence of effective constitutional authorities.”

He said the makeup of parliament does not allow any one party to unilaterally exercise power, “therefore consulting each other is inevitable.”

Meanwhile, Barbara A. Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, warned that “Lebanon is open to all scenarios, including a complete disintegration of the state. The Internal Security Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces might lose control and mass immigration might take place.”

She was speaking at an event devoted to US policy in Lebanon, which was hosted by the Wilson Center and moderated by David Hale, a former American ambassador to Lebanon.

“I believe that the diplomats themselves will pack up their belongings and move to Europe,” said Leaf. “It is not the duty of foreign diplomats to go to parliament and put pressure on the cabinet to elect a president.

“We are putting pressure on political leaders to carry out their work; however, nothing will have the same impact as public pressure and, sooner or later, it will mount again.”

Leaf stressed that Lebanon urgently needs to elect a president and appoint a prime minister, then form a government that has full authority to make important decisions, including fundamental reforms and approval of loans of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for funding energy deals.

She said the US is ready to work with the government to help ensure Lebanon has an administration with the full authority to take official action to implement the required economic reforms.

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