[Daily Star] Lebanese demand Army on border after teen killed



http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Politics/2012/Jan-23/160760-lebanese-demand-army-on-border-after-teen-killed.ashx#axzz1kFEqXfPa

Lebanese demand Army on border after teen killed

January 23, 2012 02:01 AM
By Antoine Amrieh
The Daily Star

ARIDA, Lebanon: A funeral for a Lebanese teenager killed by Syrian naval
forces gave way to anger Sunday in the Lebanese border town of Arida, with
residents chanting anti-Syria slogans and calling for the deployment of the
Lebanese Army on the tense Lebanese-Syrian frontier to protect Lebanese
citizens.

Three fishermen, identified as Fadi Hamad, 37, his brother Khaled Hamad,
33, and their nephew Maher Hamad, 17, were kidnapped by Syrian security
forces Saturday morning after a Syrian naval vessel crossed 3 kilometers
into Lebanon’s territorial waters.

Maher was shot in the stomach and killed when Syrian forces fired in the
direction of the trawler, Arida residents said. There has been no statement
so far from the Lebanese Army about the incident. Syria’s official news
agency SANA said Syrian coastal guards in Tartous intercepted “a Lebanese
smuggling boat trying to infiltrate Syrian territorial waters from north
Lebanon.” It accused the crewmen of trying to escape, while “five Lebanese
boats in Lebanese territorial waters opened fire on the boat, which
resulted in the wounding of two of its members.”

Syrian officials have accused Lebanese factions of smuggling weapons to
Syria.

Intensive high-level contacts made Saturday between Lebanon and Syria
resulted in the release by Syrian authorities of Fadi and Khaled Hamad and
the repatriation of Maher’s body, the state-run National News Agency
reported.

At 1 a.m. Sunday, families of the fishermen headed to the Abboudiyeh border
crossing to receive the two freed men while a Civil Defense vehicle
transported the body of the slain teenager.

Sources told The Daily Star that the release occurred as a result of
efforts by President Michel Sleiman and Syrian President Bashar Assad in
coordination with the Lebanese-Syrian Higher Council.

During the funeral procession in Arida, angry residents stormed the border
crossing, throwing rocks at the Syrian outpost and shouting anti-Syrian
slogans. Lebanese Army personnel held back young men who tried to cross
into Syria territory.

The funeral procession began from Hamad’s residence in Arida. Amid chants
of “there is no God but God and a martyr is God’s beloved,” mourners
proceeded to the town’s mosque for prayers, while bereaved black-clad women
wailed. Following prayers led by the Imam of Benin’s Mosque, the victim was
laid to rest in Arida’s cemetery.

According to Arida residents, the three fishermen were in their boat inside
Lebanese territorial waters in Arida preparing to set sail and throw their
nets when they were approached by a Syrian fishing boat.

The boat carried Syrian security agents, who tried to arrest the three
fishermen. The fishermen resisted, prompting the Syrians to fire on them in
order to force them to accompany them to Syrian territory after killing
Maher and wounding Khaled in his leg, the residents said.

Speaking to reporters about their ordeal, Fadi Hamad, wounds and scars of
torture visible on his body, said they were in their boat preparing to set
sail and throw their fishing nets into the water when a civilian boat
carrying two men in civilian clothes approached the nets.

“We told them to stay away from the nets so that fishing will not be
affected ... But the boat got closer to us and one of the two men jumped,
brandishing his gun and opened fire on my nephew, Maher, who was steering
the boat, hitting him in the stomach,” Hamad said. He added that a
fistfight erupted between his brother, Khaled and the gunman, who shot him
in his leg.

During the melee, another Syrian civilian boat arrived carrying gunmen who
began firing on the fishermen, hitting Maher again in his stomach, Hamad
said. He added that Syrian forces later tied their boat with their boats
and took them handcuffed to an intelligence center in Al-Mantar area in
Syrian territory.

Hamad said that during the investigation with him in an underground
detention center, he and his brother were beaten by members of Syrian
intelligence who told them that in return for their release, they must say
that they were transporting arms to Syria and that they threw the alleged
arms load in the sea.

Hamad called on the government to protect its citizens living in areas near
the border with Syria. “I call on the state to shoulder its responsibility
for what happened to us. My nephew fell martyr as a result of what
happened,” Hamad said. He added that their fishing boat was still
confiscated by Syrian forces.

After the incident, angry residents of Arida blocked the highway linking
Lebanon and Syria for hours with burning tires.

Meanwhile, Akkar Future MP Mouin Mereibi criticized the Lebanese Army for
failing to protect Lebanese citizens on the Lebanese-Syrian border. He
lamented that the Army has turned into “traffic police.”

“The Army has abandoned its role in protecting the Lebanese border,”
Mereibi told LBCI TV, calling for the deployment of Lebanese authority on
the border.

“The Army’s work is to protect the people. If it doesn’t want to protect
us, there’s no problem. Let them give us the arms they have and we are
ready to protect ourselves,” Mereibi said. He added that if the government
cannot protect the border with Syria, it should invite U.N. troops to do
so.

The Lebanese-Syrian border has become increasingly tense since the uprising
in Syria began 10 months ago, with several incursions by the Syrian army,
the killing of Lebanese citizens by Syrian security forces, and the firing
at two fishing boats in August.

Separately, a Lebanese Red Cross vehicle transported Khaled Youssef, a
Lebanese from the Wadi Khaled area, to a hospital in Qobeyat, after he was
critically wounded by an explosion of a landmine planted by the Syrian
army.
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