Lebanon’s Prime minister: No proof of Al-Qaeda presence in our country
BEIRUT - There is "no conclusive proof" that Al-Qaeda is operating along the Lebanese-Syrian border, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Wednesday, as controversy brews over remarks by Lebanon's pro-Syrian defence minister.
"There is no conclusive evidence of the presence of Al-Qaeda in Aarsal," a mainly Sunni Muslim district in eastern Lebanon that borders the Syrian protest hub of Homs, Mikati's office said in a statement.
It said the Lebanese army had deployed in Aarsal on November 21 after it had received information indicating an individual in the village might have ties to "an international terrorist organisation."
But the Lebanese military had found no concrete evidence of the presence of Al-Qaeda or any other organised group in Aarsal, the statement said, adding that the investigation was ongoing.
Defence Minister Fayez Ghosn earlier this month said Al-Qaeda militants were smuggling weapons into Syria through Aarsal, sparking an outcry among the Western-backed opposition which supports Syrian pro-democracy protesters.
Opposition MP Moueen Merhebi on Wednesday slammed Ghosn as a "minister for the defence of the Assad regime," accusing him of waging a campaign of "disinformation."
Shiite militant group Hezbollah heads an alliance that dominates the Mikati government and is a staunch ally of the Assad regime, which blames the violence within its borders on "armed terrorist" groups.
The village of Aarsal, considered a stronghold of Lebanese opposition leader Saad Hariri, has in recent months witnessed a string of deadly incursions by the Syrian army in a bid to crack down on arms smuggling.
Wounded Syrian protesters have crossed the border into Aarsal to seek medical care in Lebanon as violence escalates in Homs.
The United Nations estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the crackdown since protests against the Assad regime began in mid-March.