Lebanon's Army Commander Jean Kahwaji warned that sectarian tensions after attacks against several Sunni clerics in Beirut posed “the most dangerous security challenge” to the country for years.
Speaking to Lebanon's As-Safir newspaper, he said the situation was “the most dangerous security challenge in eight years,” in an apparent reference to the period around the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
Kahwaji's comments came after protesters took to the streets earlier this week, blocking roads and burning tires in anger over two separate incidents on Sunday in which Sunni clerics were attacked in mostly-Shiite areas.
“What happened showed clearly where the sectarian, political and confessional incitement happening around the clock could lead,” he told the newspaper.
Kahwaji urged Lebanese politicians and clerics “to assume their responsibilities in order to put a stop to anyone contributing to incitement against anyone else in his homeland.”
He said that “tens of thousands of military personnel are deployed from the far south to the far north,” warning his countrymen to “feel the size of the risks to the country.”
On Monday, Syrian warplanes hit the town of Arsal, in eastern Lebanon, an act that was described by Lebanese President Michel Sleiman as “unacceptable.” Damascus however, denied its responsibility of the attacks.
“The President of the Republic, General Michel Sleiman, considers Syrian air strikes inside Lebanese territory an unacceptable violation of Lebanese sovereignty,” Sleiman said in a statement from his office.
The statement said Sleiman had instructed Foreign Minister Adnan Mansur “to send a message of protest to the Syrian side so that such operations are not repeated.”
But Syria, in its first comments on the attacks, denied it was involved.
“The information being peddled by the Lebanese, Arab and international media claiming that Syria fighter jets bombed inside Lebanese territory is baseless,” a Foreign Ministry Official told state news agency SANA.
“The ministry completely denies this information and reiterates that it respects Lebanese sovereignty and remains committed to the security and security of its brother Lebanon,” he added.
Sources: Al Arabiya; AFP; As-Safir