The Lebanese government is in touch with Hezbollah to ease tensions after the beheading of a second Lebanese soldier at the hands of Islamic State (IS), the interior minister said.
“We are in open communication with the leadership of Hezbollah, and in all directions, to rein in sectarian tension and anger on the streets,” Machnouk told the local daily As-Safir in remarks published Monday.
“We emphasized the need to ward off any sectarian strife during talks with Hezbollah,” he stressed, pointing out that discord is “what the kidnappers are after.”
Machnouk said contacts with Hezbollah deputy leader Hussein Khalil and Hezbollah’s top security official Wafiq Safa had “contributed to controlling tensions in streets and facilitated self-restraint.”
Dozens took to the streets in outrage after IS announced Saturday evening that it had executed a second Lebanese soldier, Abbas Medlej, a Shiite from the eastern city of Baalbek.
Jihadists from IS and the Nusra Front engaged in deadly gunbattles with the Lebanese Army during a five-day incursion into the Bekaa Valley border town of Arsal last month.
They took more than two dozen servicemen hostage when they retreated from Arsal toward the outskirts. The militants are now believed to be holding at least 22 soldiers and policemen captive.
Asked whether the government had received “clear demands” from the captors, Machnouk said the demands were still being shaped up.
“We expect this issue to drag on,” he added.
Machnouk said Doha had dispatched an envoy to mediate the release of the soldiers and policemen, but that the mediator was not a Qatari national.
Copyright © 2021, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.