Lebanese actor accused of spying for Israel freed

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Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri receives Ziad Itani at his office on Tuesday. (AN photo)
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Ziad Itani, a Lebanese stage actor, who was indicted on charges of collaborating with Israel and drug possession, shouts as he speaks with journalists after he was released by Lebanese authorities, at his house, in Beirut. (AP)
Updated 14 March 2018
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Lebanese actor accused of spying for Israel freed

BEIRUT: Actor Ziad Itani has been released by the Lebanese military judiciary without bail after being confined for 110 days on a charge of spying for Israel.
His arrest shocked the Lebanese public, and there was further upset when an Internal Security Forces officer and a hacker were arrested for fabricating the case against Itani.
Itani was first held by Lebanese State Security and then by the Information Department of the ISF.
As soon as he was released from prison, a tearful Itani said: “The guys at the Information Department are heroes — thorough investigations were conducted with precision, and they saved the era from a big scandal.”
He also thanked President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and said: “They knew that such a case won’t go unsolved.
“I am a stage actor who works for the people’s theater and was accused of the gravest crime. We don’t wish to go back to the outdated systems,” he added.
When asked if he had been tortured, he replied: “Yes.”
Less than two hours following the release order, Itani’s Twitter account was activated and, as he waited in prison for his attorney to finish the release proceedings, he tweeted: “What are you waiting for? Meet me in Tariq El Jdideh and bring sweets and juice with you. I’ve missed you.”
Itani’s lawyer Rami Itani, said after the prosecutor issued the release order: “A huge reception will await Ziad near his house in Tariq El Jdideh.”
Itani’s mother, who waited for him at her house in Tariq El Jdideh, said: “My son is innocent.
“I will never forgive those who were behind Ziad’s arrest, and I won’t forgive his acquaintances who believed the charge against him,” she added.
The Lebanese flag and Future Movement banners were raised on balconies In Tariq El Jdideh to welcome Itani.
Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghaida issued two arrest warrants against the security officer, Lt. Col. Suzan Hajj (Hobeiche), who was interrogated on Tuesday in the presence of her defense lawyer, former minister Rashid Derbas, and the hacker, Elie Ghabash, who was questioned on Monday.
During her three-hour investigation, conducted by Judge Abu Ghaida, Hajj was brought face-to-face with Ghabash, and both stuck to their statements.
According to judicial sources, Hajj insisted on denying the charge and Ghabash’s confessions.
For his part, Ghabash confirmed that Hajj had requested that he hack Ziad Itani’s online account in revenge.
While being interrogated by Judge Abu Ghaida, Ghabash had confirmed the confessions he made to the Information Department, where he said that “the case had been fabricated against Itani at the request of Hajj.”
Gabash had recorded all phone calls received from Hajj when she asked him to frame Itani for collaborating with a Mossad spy, Colette, who was later found to be fictitious.
Hajj wanted revenge on Itani for exposing a ‘like’ she had placed on a social media post by TV director Charbel Khalil, in which he mocked the Saudi decision to lift the driving ban on women.
Even though she quickly withdrew the ‘like’, she lost her job as head of the ISF anti-cybercrime unit as a result of the tweet.
Judge Abu Ghaida is to close the investigation and refer the case to the Military Tribunal for review it before he hands down his indictment, under which he refers the two detainees, Hajj and Ghabash, to the Military Court. The criminal charges they face carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.
 


Syria stuck with Assad for now, says UK minister Jeremy Hunt

Updated 16 February 2019
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Syria stuck with Assad for now, says UK minister Jeremy Hunt

  • Jeremy Hunt, the UK foreign secretary, said that Assad is likely to remain in his position “for the short-term and possibly longer”
  • Hunt added that the UK has “no plans” to reopen diplomatic relations with Syria

LONDON: Syria has no future under Bashar Assad but is stuck with the president due to Russian support, Britain’s top diplomat has said.
Jeremy Hunt, the UK foreign secretary, said that Assad is likely to remain in his position “for the short-term and possibly longer,” and called on Moscow to come forward with a solution.
“Assad … is a truly horrific man who has shown that he won’t hesitate to butcher his own people in order to prolong his hold on power. And what future would a country like Syria have with a leader like that?,” Hunt said in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
“But the reality is because of Russian support, he is there and he is likely to stay for the short-term and possibly longer. It is for the Russians now to come forward with their solution because they have chosen to intervene in the way they have.”
Hunt said it was “impossible” for Syria to have a bright future with Assad still in power.
“This is a man who mercilessly gassed his own people in the most brutally possible way against all international norms, and the Russians chose to prop him up. So it is for Russia now to show they are going to create peace and stability in Syria,” he said.
Hunt added that the UK has “no plans” to reopen diplomatic relations with Syria.
The British official said the US withdrawal from eastern Syria should not take place in a way that harms “our allies like the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) in Syria who fought very bravely along Western troops for many years.”
Asked about Britain’s role following the US pullout from Syria, Hunt said: “There is no prospect of British troops going in to replace the American troops leaving, but of course we had discussions with the United States on an ongoing basis and when I was in Washington a couple of weeks ago about how we stabilize the situation in Syria.”
Hunt also spoke about the territorial defeat of Daesh in Syria and Iraq — but cautioned that was not the same as crushing the mindset behind the terror group.
“We have not yet eliminated the cause of the Daesh movement which is so evil and so destructive and there is a lot more work left to do,” he said.
“It is very important that the global coalition does not hang its hat up and say we are done now, because if we do that there is a very good chance that Daesh will be back.”
“There (is) some evidence now in parts of Iraq that (Daesh is) regrouping and regathering strength.”
On Yemen, Hunt underlined the need for a comprehensive solution that would prevent Iran from using the country as a base to destabilize neighboring states.
Asked about his recent participation in the Warsaw Conference on the Middle East, the British foreign secretary said that the meetings went beyond the Iranian role in the region to touch on reshaping alliances in the Middle East.
He added that he attended a “very productive meeting about Yemen,” in the presence of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.
“We spent a long time talking about what is necessary to get peace over the line in Yemen,” he said.
In this regard, Hunt affirmed that a comprehensive settlement in Yemen could only be reached through “a government of national unity in which the Houthis have a stake in which the security of all communities in Yemen is assured, in which Iran is no longer using Yemen as a base to destabilize Yemen’s neighbors, and in which we can end the terrible humanitarian crisis which is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world right now.”
According to Hunt, the problem lies in how to achieve a final solution and to build trust, in particular the importance of implementing the Stockholm Agreement and withdrawal from the city of Hodeidah “so that we can open up the Red Sea Mills,” where 51,000 tones of UN wheat is stored.
He noted that he held a lengthy discussion with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif about this issue.
According to Hunt, he was told by Zarif that Iran wants to play its part in finding a solution. “We took those commitments at face value but we do now need to see that translated into the Houthis leaving the Port of Hodeideh.”
“All of us know that if that does not happen soon, we are going to see a return to hostilities and that would be an absolute tragedy to the people of Yemen,” Hunt said.
A version of this story was originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat