Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lebanon tense following Hezbollah airport incident

Lebanon is on edge after an incident on Friday when Hezbollah acted in direct opposition to the government:

A former Lebanese general who has been summoned by prosecutors for threatening remarks made against Prime Minister Saad Hariri was on Saturday promised protection from arrest by opposition group Hezbollah.

Jamil Sayyed was detained for four years on suspicions of involvement with the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, the father of the current prime minister.
However, he was released in 2009 when the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) ordered his release due to lack of evidence.

Sayyed has insisted that the testimony that landed him in detention was provided by a lying witness. Last week, he publicly threatened Hariri in a press conference.

'I will not be silent until justice is made...' Sayyed said, accusing the younger Hariri of paying for the testimony that put him away.

'False witnesses must be held accountable under the law, or we shall settle the score against them in the street,' Sayyed warned.

Those remarks, including one to take justice 'with his own hands' if Hariri did not admit to his alleged crimes, prompted Lebanese prosecutor Said Mirza on Thursday to summon Sayyed for questioning regarding threats to Hariri and state security.

But, when Sayyed arrived at Beirut's international airport, he was greeted by Hezbollah lawmakers and officials, who escorted him his house amid heavy security to prevent anyone from arresting him.

Hezbollah's move is seen as a repudiation of Lebanon's courts.

Hezbollah issued a statement on Friday saying that Mirza's request to summon Sayyed was 'political,' calling for a reversal of the judiciary's decision to summon Sayyed for questioning.

'Hezbollah fully supports Sayyed,' the statement said, adding that 'any move to take legal action against Sayyed will cause chaos in the country.'

Many observers believe that the situation in Lebanon is critical and similar to the atmosphere that prevailed in May 2008, when gunmen of a Hezbollah-led alliance occupied the Sunni part of Beirut, to protest a decision by the Western-backed government to dismantle the movement's special telecommunications network.

Hezbollah lawmaker Hassan Fadlallah said Saturday that 'no one is capable of putting Sayyed in prison.'

Hezbollah's stance was unnerving to some observers.

'Hezbollah's warm reception for Sayyed is viewed as a direct challenge to the the Lebanese authorities and if it succeeds it will be viewed as the end to Lebanon's sovereignty,' a Lebanese government source said.
So far, the Lebanese government response has been muted, although individuals from all parties are (as usual) being quite outspoken.