(Al-Akhbar): Lebanese police and army have arrested at least 24 people in raids across Tripoli in the first day of a so-called security plan aimed at demilitarizing the conflict ridden city, a security source said.
The source told Al-Akhbar that a combined force of 1,680 members of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) and army soldiers plus 63 officers are sweeping the city for wanted militants and collecting arms.
3G phone connections have also been disabled across the city to prevent fighters from using popular communication programs WhatsApp, Tango and Viber since “they can’t be tapped,” the source said.
“We are monitoring all other calls and text messages,” he added.
Tanks and armored vehicles could be seen patrolling the city as army helicopters hovered overhead searching for fugitives. The security forces have also set up new checkpoints both inside the city and along the many roads and highways leading into and out of Tripoli.
This assured safety for locals, allowing schools and shops to function normally.
The new security plan comes following a recent uptick in violence pitting rival neighborhoods Bab al-Tabbaneh against Jabal Mohsen in which at least 30 people have been killed.
It was the latest round of violence in a series of fierce clashes related to the war in Syria that have killed hundreds over the past three years.
While the security forces had fanned out across the city, the source said that most of the ISF action was concentrated in the neighborhoods of Qobbe, Bakkar and Jabal Mohsen.
Soldiers stormed the homes of several militia leaders including salafi Shadi Mawlawi, but found no one.
They also raided the empty home of Arab Democratic Party leader Rifaat Eid in Jabal Mohsen where they confiscated security cameras inside and outside, and destroyed the barricades around it.
One person was arrested when he attempted to take pictures of the army while they raided Eid’s house.
ISF members stormed the home of extremist sheikh Omar Bakri Festok, but he “escaped” before officers were able to arrest him, the source said, adding that the officers were still intent on finding him.
But the source also added that the militia leaders received calls last week warning them of Tuesday’s offensive, allowing them time to flee.
The source predicted that this plan is going to be more successful than the previous ones since the borders with Syria have been closed, and that all Lebanese political factions in the city agreed on its terms and procedures.
The army also failed to catch wanted salafis Ahmad Salim Mikati, his son Omar Ahmad Mikati (who goes by Abu Hurayra), and Fayez Osman, but they captured Bilal al-Eter.
The ISF arrested militant Khaled Adnan Hariri near Tripolis Serail after he tried to hurl a grenade towards them.
Meanwhile protests erupted in Qobbe, Bab al-Tabbane, and the Old Souks against the arrests of the men. The source said that about 150 people from Bab al-Tabbaneh are rioting, with some attacking army positions.