Lebanon’s Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq slammed on Sunday the recent remarks of Hezbollah deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem over claims of “liberating” the northeastern border town of Arsal, stressing that the army should be the only party responsible for such a mission and accused the Iranian backed Shiite militant group of aiming at destroying the mostly Sunni border town.
Mashnouq told the Al Mustaqbal daily: “Qassem is calling for destroying Arsal, not liberating it .”
Qassem who is known as no. 2 had voiced on Saturday Hezbollah’s “determination to confront the takfiri threat on the outskirts of Arsal to liberate the land.”
He referred to the case of Iraq’s Ramadi region and slammed those who “proposed that we sit aside and allow the official armed forces to perform their duties.”
“In Ramadi,” continued Qassem, “officials said that we do not need the help of the Popular Mobilization forces to combat the Islamic State group in order to avert Sunni-Shiite strife.”
“The forces therefore did not get involved and fighting ensued in Ramadi and the IS infiltrated and seized the region,” he explained.
Mashnouq slammed the Hezbollah official’s statements, adding: “Liberating Arsal does not take place through a sectarian attack.”
“This is the mission of the state, army, and official security forces,” he stressed.
“They are responsible for freeing Arsal and any other inch of Lebanese land,” he declared to al-Mustaqbal.
Arsal mayor Ali al-Hujairi voiced concern Saturday over attempts by Hezbollah and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to drag the northeastern border town into war.
“They are trying to pull Arsal into a dark tunnel of blood and fire,” Hujairi said in comments published in the Kuwaiti al-Anbaa newspaper.
He hailed the Lebanese army for preventing the “mercenaries” from meddling with the town’s security and stability.
The mayor accused a number of Hezbollah affiliates of “placing Thursday the explosive-rigged car in Arsal,” revealing that the army is aware of their names and political ties.
Explosive experts dismantled Thursday a car rigged with 35 kilograms of explosives in the town.
The mayor called on Hezbollah to avert a crisis in Arsal and the region as the repercussions of its fall will impact everyone, stressing that the town supports the army and its decisions.
Hezbollah backed by Syrian forces controlled strategic areas in Qalamoun that surround Lebanon’s eastern border as fighting rages in the region.
Some observers are concerned that the Qalamoun offensive could prompt Islamist militants to launch attacks in Shiite areas of Lebanon , including Beirut’s southern suburbs the strongholds of the Iranian backed Hezbollah militant group .