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March 14 steps up calls for Abra probe
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The March 14 alliance stepped up Sunday its call for a probe into the June clashes in Abra, while slamming Hezbollah’s arsenal as the main cause of violence across the country.

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called for a transparent investigation into reports of Hezbollah fighters arresting and torturing residents of Sidon when the Army conducted a military operation against firebrand Sheikh Ahmad Assir and his armed loyalists last month.

“What happened in Abra two weeks ago raised several questions that remain unanswered up until now. That’s why we call for a transparent and just judicial investigation so that the whole truth can be revealed in order to comfort people and allay their concerns,” Siniora said.

Siniora’s remarks came at the outset of a meeting of March 14 officials held at the residence of Sidon MP Bahia Hariri in Majdalyoun, east of Sidon, in an expression of solidarity with the city.

The Army launched its operation against Assir in Abra, east of Sidon, after his gunmen killed several soldiers at a checkpoint near the complex he commanded. Eighteen soldiers and at least 28 gunmen were killed in the 25-hour operation. Assir’s whereabouts remain unknown.

Siniora’s statements coincided with strongly worded condemnations by Hezbollah officials Sunday accusing the Future Movement of sowing strife and undermining national unity. Hezbollah publicly accused the movement of undermining the Army and damaging national unity.

Sheikh Nabil Qaouq, the deputy head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, said the Future Movement was pursuing policies that constituted “a knife in the heart of the nation and national unity.”

“The mask has fallen to reveal the real face of the Future Movement, which does not let an opportunity pass without instigating strife and using the weapon of sectarian incitement,” Qaouq said at a ceremony in Bint Jbeil, according to the National News Agency.

At another rally, Qaouq said that the Future Movement had succeeded in “increasing tension and deepening division and hatred among the Lebanese.”

He likened the clashes in Abra to “a landmine intended to blow up the entire nation.”

Hezbollah MP Nawaf Mousawi accused the Future Movement of seeking to paralyze the country through a campaign against the Army over recent clashes in the south between the military and Islamist fighters.

“The Future Movement and its team is employing a program of paralyzing state apparatuses and institutions, Parliament and Cabinet right up to [the Army] which protects national unity and preserves peace, security and stability in the country,” said Mousawi, who spoke during an inauguration ceremony of development projects in Tayr Harfa in Tyre, south Lebanon.

He warned that targeting the Army would lead to catastrophic results.

Mousawi said the Army had acted with heroism in Abra, in an operation that “did not lead to any civilians being wounded.” He said the Army had also managed to avoid another “April 13,” – the day of the outbreak of Lebanon’s Civil War in 1975.

Siniora, the head of the Future parliamentary bloc, reiterated his condemnation of the attack against the Army, calling it a “criminal” act.

“But at the same time, we do not accept that Hezbollah’s militia fights alongside the Army and targets innocent residents of the city,” he said.

“We do not accept assaults against others, or against state establishments, particularly the Army, but at the same time we do not accept that others assault us ... with the participation of a group from Amy Intelligence, not only in Sidon, but in Beirut, Tripoli, Arsal, Akkar and other areas.”Siniora added that hundreds of Sidonians had witnessed Hezbollah fighters deploying in large numbers in the Army’s entire field of operations in Abra.

“They took part in shelling, raiding, investigations, harassing people and looting some houses. I have a question here: Did Hezbollah prepare for a military operation it knew was going to happen?” he asked.

In a statement following the clashes, the Army said it had fought alone in Abra.

Siniora said that many questions raised by the March 14 coalition over the Abra clashes have gone unanswered so far.

“How did the Army allow this [violation]? Why and who is responsible? ... we have information rather than impressions that those arrested in Sidon were subject to torture by Army Intelligence personnel in Sidon or by Hezbollah members who humiliated them based on their sect,” Siniora noted.

“How were crimes against the city’s people allowed?” he asked.

Siniora also praised the Army’s arrest of a number of soldiers who appeared in a video allegedly torturing a person detained over the Abra fighting.

The video, circulated on social media in the past few days, allegedly shows soldiers severely beating and stepping on a handcuffed detainee, asking him about Assir’s whereabouts.

The Army said in a statement Saturday that the soldiers involved in the case were arrested and would be subject to “the harshest punishments.”

After a closed-door meeting, attendees said Hezbollah’s arms were the main reason behind violence across the country. “We are aware that the main reason behind rampant violence and strife across Lebanon is the presence of a mini-state nibbling away at the legitimate state,” said Fares Soueid, coordinator of the March 14 General Secretariat. “We are also aware that this strange and unprecedented situation provokes many and sparks violent, unacceptable reactions.”

“That’s why we oppose violence and counter-violence, extremism and counter-extremism and we call on all the Lebanese to unite behind the project of Lebanon’s permanent peace,” he read.

The gathering decided to consider a memo forwarded by Hariri and Siniora to President Michel Sleiman last month a “national memo.”

The memo included questions about the violations committed during the Abra operation. The attendees vowed to follow up on the issue until all questions were answered.

The gathering called for declaring Sidon a demilitarized city where only legitimate authorities carry arms.


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