Security

Lebanon reaffirms commitment to anti-ISIS coalition

By Tamer Abu Zeid in Beirut

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A Lebanese army tank drives to the entrance of the Bekaa Valley border town of Arsal in this file photo taken August 2nd, 2014. The army is gearing up for a new assault to drive the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' from the area.  [AFP PHOTO/STR]

Lebanon's Higher Defence Council on Tuesday (August 8th) reaffirmed the government's commitment to the international coalition fighting the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and to ridding Lebanon of the group.

The country's top emergency body convened in Beirut for a meeting chaired by Lebanese President Gen. Michel Aoun to discuss security and extraordinary developments and make appropriate decisions, which will be kept confidential.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the ministers of defence, foreign affairs, finance, interior, justice and economy were in attendance, along with Higher Defence Council head Maj. Gen. Saadullah al-Hamad.

Also in attendance were Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun, Army Intelligence Director Brig. Gen. Tony Mansour, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim of the General Security Directorate, Maj. Gen. Imad Osman of the Internal Security Forces and Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba of the State Security Directorate.

The meeting came as army units intensified artillery, rocket and airstrikes targeting ISIS fortifications near Arsal in preparation for a ground attack.

During the meeting, Aoun and Hariri affirmed the government's commitment to "freeing Lebanese territory from terrorism, as it is committed to the international coalition against terrorism".

In pursuit of this objective, they said, the government "shall not compromise, nor lose any opportunity to fight, tackle, and deter terrorism".

Setting the course for battle

The council reviewed the military and security situation in the mountainous areas around Arsal, Ras Baalbek and al-Qaa, heard recommendations, and took decisions regarding the ongoing military operation against ISIS in the area.

Al-Qaa suffered a series of deadly ISIS suicide bombings in June 2016.

Speaking to Al-Mashareq about the current situation, al-Qaa mayor Bashir Matar said "the population of al-Qaa is doing well, morale is very high and it is yearning for the Lebanese army to engage in a battle against the terrorists".

Al-Qaa residents want the army "to make ISIS pay for last year’s bombings", he said, and believe "it is the army that will liberate the mountainous areas, and it alone protects us and protects the people".

"The people of the town stand behind the army and on both its sides so that Lebanon may remain a land of freedom,” he said.

With the meeting, Lebanese authorities officially set the course of the battle.

The statement issued made no mention of any role for Hizbullah or any co-ordination between the Lebanese and Syrian armies in the battle against ISIS.

Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun demanded that the fate of nine servicemen kidnapped by ISIS be made clear before any settlement regarding the group's withdrawal from Lebanese territory is agreed upon, media reports said.

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