‘Most powerful woman in Lebanon’ held over claims she framed actor

The Lebanese security authorities have arrested Maj. Suzan El-Hajj Hobeiche over the suspicion of fabricating charges on actor Ziad Itani, who was detained on Nov. 24, 2017, on charges of 'collaborating' with Israel. (AFP)
Updated 04 March 2018
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‘Most powerful woman in Lebanon’ held over claims she framed actor

BEIRUT: A prominent Lebanese police chief has been arrested over allegations that she framed one of the country’s most popular comedians by claiming he was working as a spy for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad — the latest twist in a remarkable case that has gripped Beirut for months.
Ziad Itani, who is also a leading actor and playwright, was indicted in November for allegedly collaborating with the Jewish state to collect information about Lebanese politicians and journalists. The case shocked the nation’s capital, where his irreverent take on city life has won him legions of fans.
Now, in another extraordinary turn of events, Maj. Suzan El-Hajj Hobeiche, often referred to as “Lebanon’s most powerful woman,” has been detained on suspicion of making false claims against Itani.
Politicians and Lebanese media reacted with incredulity to the the latest developments, lambasting the government for causing a “security scandal” and mishandling the entire case.
Interior Minister Nohad Al-Mashnouk denounced “malevolent, idiotic and sectarian people” for trying to frame the comedian.
“All Lebanese apologize to Ziad Itani. Innocence is not enough. The only fixed truth is that we are proud of him and his patriotism,” he said, in remarks that some observers interpreted as a bid to win support for his campaign in the May 2014 parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, cultural journalist Rana Najjar wrote that she “did not believe the charges from the beginning.”
She described Itani as “a poor, simple and peaceful person loved by the people” and said his plight raised questions about similar cases the security forces had made against civil society activists and media figures.
Hobeiche, the former director of the cybercrimes bureau in the Lebanese security forces, is accused of using a hacker to create fake social media accounts that suggested Itani was collaborating with an Israeli female agent.
The police chief is believed to have acted out of revenge following her sacking from the cybercrimes bureau last October. Hobeiche was dismissed soon after “liking” a Twitter post shared by television producer Charbel Khalil, which mocked a decree by the Saudi government that granted women the right to drive.
“The news that women will be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia was incomplete,” Khalil wrote. “Women will be allowed to drive the car only if it is rigged (with explosives).”
Hobeiche quickly removed her “like,” but it was too late. She had reportedly taken a screenshot and circulated the post elsewhere. The assistant state commissioner to the military court, Judge Hani Al-Hajjar, said Hobeiche believed this played a part in her dismissal.
At the judge’s request, Hobeiche was taken from her house on Friday to the information branch headquarters of the Internal Security Forces for questioning. She will be held until next Monday, when the case file will be transferred to the military court.
Before becoming an actor and comedian, Zitani, who is still waiting to be released, worked as a journalist for Al Mayadeen TV, a media outlet known for its sympathetic coverage of the militant group Hezbollah.
In response to the furor over the case, Justice Minister Selim Jreissati tweeted that “the Lebanese people do not apologize, and it is not befitting any official to resort to an apology to gain electoral points. Lebanese courts are the only competent power to render innocent or guilty judgments in the name of the Lebanese people.”


Russia: Extremist alliance will not withdraw from Idlib zone

Militants in Syria’s Idlib failed to meet a deadline to leave a planned buffer zone ringing the country’s last rebel bastion. (AFP)
Updated 17 November 2018
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Russia: Extremist alliance will not withdraw from Idlib zone

  • Sporadic fighting continued to be recorded in places with a residual terrorist presence, primarily in Idlib: Russia
  • Turkey has designated HTS, which is led by the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham (JFS), a terrorist organization

ANKARA: Turkey has failed to persuade the rebel alliance Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) to withdraw from a demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib province that was agreed by Ankara and Moscow in September, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
“Sporadic fighting continued to be recorded in places with a residual terrorist presence, primarily in Idlib… Militants continued shelling western Aleppo,” said ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
On Thursday, Turkish and Russian officials met in Ankara ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Istanbul on Nov. 19.
Timur Akhmetov, a researcher at the Russian International Affairs Council, said although there are serious problems with implementation of the Idlib agreement, Russian officials stressed that the process requires time and effort.
“Russia doesn’t want to push Turkey because there’s a much more important thing: Constitutional dialogue between the Syrian opposition and government, where Turkish-Russian dialogue plays a decisive role,” he told Arab News. 
“(Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan publicly undertook obligations to clear the (Idlib) zone from terrorists,” Akhmetov said. 
“Ankara is also having a hard time with the US regarding the Syrian Kurds. I think Russia will find ways to exploit this situation.”
Turkey has designated HTS, which is led by the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham (JFS), a terrorist organization.
Under the Turkish-Russian deal, rebel groups, including HTS, were to withdraw from the demilitarized zone by mid-October.
Ankara has repeatedly indicated its readiness to use force against radical groups if they refuse to withdraw.
Turkey has reinforced its military presence in Idlib with armored vehicles and equipment. It has 12 military posts in the province.
Enes Ayasli, a research assistant and Middle East expert at Sakarya University in Turkey, said the most obvious setback of the Idlib deal is that moderate rebel groups in the province now back HTS if there is a clash between it and Syrian regime forces.
“Their focus is now on repelling regime forces even if it means violating the deal,” he told Arab News. 
“Turkey in this sense seems to have failed to separate moderate groups completely from extremists.”
An intensification of fighting between the regime and extremists may cause the deal to collapse completely, Ayasli said.
Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported an increased rate of violations of the Idlib demilitarized zone.