Monday, August 28, 2017

Justice for our soldiers

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Yesterday, eight bodies were found in a mass grave near the border with Syria. They are believed to be the remains of the Lebanese soldiers kidnapped by Daech three years ago. In the next few days, DNA tests could sadly confirm the terrible rumor: our soldiers were murdered in cold blood a few months after their abduction.

While expressing their sorrow and anger on social media, many Lebanese are demanding justice. Some are calling for vengeance. Most don’t understand how the terrorists were allowed to move with their families to their Syrian stronghold in Deir Ezzor.

How could that happen?

After being surrounded in an 60 km2 mountainous area on the Syrian-Lebanese border (20 km2 in Lebanon and 40 km2 in Syria), the remaining Daech terrorists proposed a despicable deal to the Lebanese army: let us go and we will tell you where the kidnapped soldiers are.

The army refused and repeated its terms: no negotiations until the fate of the soldiers is known. So the terrorists surrendered to Hezbollah fighters on the Syrian side of the border.

The Syrian government agreed to grant them passage to Deir Ezzor if they revealed the fate of the kidnapped Lebanese soldiers, among other demands. Hezbollah informed the army about the location, on Lebanese territory, of the mass grave where the soldiers were buried.

So according to the informations available at the moment, the Lebanese authorities didn't make a deal with Daech. Ultimately, the objectives of the battle were achieved: know the fate of the kidnapped soldiers and remove Daech from the jurd of Qaa and Ras Baalbek.

Better in Deir Ezzor than unpunished 

Personally, I don't mind seeing the terrorists go to Deir Ezzor. Why? Because I want them to pay for their crimes. And I'm not sure it would have been possible if they were held in Lebanon.

This is obviously rhetorical. The terrorists surrendered on Syrian territory. Unless the Lebanese government asks the Syrian regime to hand them over, I don't see how they can face justice in Lebanon. But still, I believe it's important to remember some realities.

Deir Ezzor is surrounded and its fall is only a matter of time. There’s an international decision to end Daech’s presence in the Middle East. The implementation of this decision started in Mosul, continued in the Lebanese and Syrian jurd, and will be concluded in Rakka and Deir Ezzor.

In a few months, the so-called Islamic State will no longer exist in this part of the world. Not as an organized armed group controlling territories in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The murdering thugs fighting under its banner will likely meet a bitter end.

Who could guarantee such an outcome if they are taken prisoner in Lebanon? Who could guarantee that no one would start meddling with the judicial process and use them to further some obscure agenda?

Remember Shadi al-Mawlawi?

Shadi al-Mawlawi is a known terrorist with strong Daech and Al Qaeda connections. He was allegedly responsible for the murder of several Lebanese army soldiers. He was arrested in 2012 but was released hours later, driven home in an official motorcade and received a hero’s welcome.

Today, al-Mawlawi is leading an armed militia in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, beyond the Lebanese authorities reach.

Does anyone truly believe that something similar couldn't and wouldn't have happened with the killers of the kidnapped soldiers? Sadly, letting these killers go to Deir Ezzor seems to be a better way to insure that they’ll pay for their crimes than throwing them in a Lebanese jail.

Justice for our soldiers starts with the people responsible for their abduction

It’s not a secret that some politicians protected Daech and Nosra in Lebanon. Back in 2012, former Defense minister Fayez Ghosn warned about the presence of Al Qaeda cells in the outskirts of Arsal. Politicians accused him of racism and flocked to the border town to prove him wrong.

For two years, anyone mentioning the terrorist presence in the Lebanese jurd was dismissed as a racist and a Syrian regime collaborator. Even when the army confirmed their presence and proposed to end it, the government refused to listen.

In 2014, Jabhat al-Nosra (Al Qaeda) and Daech tried to take over Arsal. The army intervened and stopped the invasion. But 37 soldiers and policemen were trapped in a part of town still occupied by the terrorists.

The army had the upper hand and could have easily freed them. But politicians stepped in and ordered a cease-fire. Taking advantage of the cease-fire, the terrorists escaped from Arsal and took the soldiers and policemen with them to the jurd.

For three years, the government refused to let the army attempt a rescue mission. Even after two soldiers were executed by Daech in a macabre mise-en-scène. In 2015, a humiliating prisoner swap with al-Nosra took place. But nothing changed, the government kept refusing to act.

In August 2017, the battle against Daech and Nosra finally started after the political power balance changed. When the battle ended, the tragic fate of the remaining kidnapped soldiers was discovered. They were murdered in cold blood.

Who are the people responsible? Why did they allow the soldiers abduction to happen? Why did they stop the army from freeing them? These are the questions the Lebanese judiciary should be asking.

There will be no justice for our soldiers unless the people responsible for their abduction are sitting in court, answering for what they did. These soldiers gave their life for us, justice is the least we can do for them.

© Claude El Khal, 2017