Saleh al-Gharib, the state minister for refugee affairs, whose two bodyguards were killed yesterday in what he termed an attempted assassination, sits with Talal Arslan, a Druze politician, during a news conference, in Khaldeh, near Beirut, Lebanon July 1, 2019. Picture: REUTERS / AZIZ TAHER
Saleh al-Gharib, the state minister for refugee affairs, whose two bodyguards were killed yesterday in what he termed an attempted assassination, sits with Talal Arslan, a Druze politician, during a news conference, in Khaldeh, near Beirut, Lebanon July 1, 2019. Picture: REUTERS / AZIZ TAHER

Beirut - The Lebanese government vowed on Monday to restore security to an area of a fatal shooting that has stirred fear of renewed strife in the Chouf Mountains, one of the bloodiest theatres of the 1975-90 civil war.

Two aides of government minister Saleh al-Gharib,  state minister for refugee affairs, were killed on Sunday in the incident in the Aley region in what he called an assassination attempt.

Lebanon's Supreme Defence Council, which includes the president and security chiefs, said it had taken "decisive" measures to restore security to the area and bring to justice those involved.

"This is to bury strife, safeguard the prestige of the state and to spare innocent blood," the council said in a statement, adding that the decisions would remain secret.

No arrests have been announced.

The incident spiralled as supporters of Walid Jumblatt, Lebanon's main Druze leader, protested against a planned visit to the area by foreign minister Gebran Bassil, a Maronite Christian and Jumblatt adversary. He ultimately cancelled the visit, saying he wanted to avoid any security problem.

Gharib, a Druze politician, is politically aligned with Bassil and backed by Jumblatt's Druze rival Talal Arslan.

Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) has accused Gharib's bodyguards of opening fire on the protesters, leading to an exchange of fire in which two PSP supporters were also wounded.

Arslan, in a televised news conference, said the state must act. "If the state does not strike with an iron fist there will be negative repercussions in more than one area," he said.

The historic rivalry between Arslan and Jumblatt has surfaced on numerous fronts of late, including the tussle for Druze cabinet posts in prime minister Saad al-Hariri's national unity government.

The families of the men killed on Sunday have said they will not bury them until the perpetrators are handed over.

The Chouf witnessed years of fighting between Christian and Druze militias in the civil war, leading to the displacement of the Christian population. Some have returned under government-backed "reconciliation" agreements.

Reuters