‘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

‘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.”


Jordan criticizes Israel over Al-Aqsa Mosque changes

Updated 31 min 48 sec ago

Jordan criticizes Israel over Al-Aqsa Mosque changes

  • Palestinians welcomed the Jordanian position but expressed concerns over a decline of support for Amman’s custodianship of the holy places at Al-Aqsa

AMMAN: Jordan has stepped up its diplomatic pressure on Israel, demanding that they do not change the status quo at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Zaid Lozi, director-general of Jordan’s Foreign Ministry, summoned Israeli Ambassador to Jordan Amir Weissbrod to protest Israel’s actions in Jerusalem.

According to Petra News, Lozi told the envoy that recent remarks by Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Ardan over changing the status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque are unacceptable. Lozi added that the mosque is a place of worship for Muslims only.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi addressed a group of EU ambassadors in Amman and “stressed the urgency of effective international steps against Israel’s violations of Holy Sites in occupied Jerusalem.”

Safadi told Arab News that the situation in Jerusalem is challenging and must be addressed. He said that he will present a detailed report on Jordan’s position to Parliament on Monday.

The ministry denounced the Israeli authorities’ closure of the mosque’s gates and demanded that Israel respects its obligations in accordance with international humanitarian law.

HIGHLIGHT

• Muslims insist that all 144,000 square meters of the UNESCO World Heritage Site are a single unit that has belonged to them for 11 centuries.

Hatem Abdel Qader, a member of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, told Arab News that Israeli authorities had been attempting to enforce major changes at the mosque.

“Security forces barged into the mosque yesterday. They went to the Bab Al-Rahmeh Mosque where they confiscated carpets and the closet where shoes are kept.”

Jordan’s diplomatic statements follow comments by Ardan, who said that Israel is disappointed with the current state of affairs at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

According to Israeli officials, the mosque area is sovereign Israeli territory, despite it being administered by Jordan. Muslims insist that all 144,000 square meters of the UNESCO World Heritage Site are a single unit that has belonged to them for 11 centuries.

Qader said that Palestinians welcomed the Jordanian position but expressed concerns over a decline of support for Amman’s custodianship of the holy places at Al-Aqsa.

“There appears to have been a gradual deterioration of Arab and Islamic support to Jordan. It surprises me that Muslims have been quiet, perhaps they see an advantage if Jordan’s role is diminished? If true, this would be dangerous.”

Qader, a former minister in the Palestinian government and a current member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, told Arab News that Jordan’s position “guarantees continuation of the status quo.”