Lebanese businessman Nizar Zakka arrives in Beirut after Iran release

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Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national and US resident arrested in 2015 and sentenced to 10 years in jail on espionage charges, flashes the victory gesture at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut. (AFP)
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Freed Lebanese businessman Nizar Zakka with Major General Abbas Ibrahim, Lebanon's internal security chief, aboard a plane after being released by Iran. (Lebanese General Security Directorate/Reuters)
Updated 12 June 2019

Lebanese businessman Nizar Zakka arrives in Beirut after Iran release

  • ‘The relevant court has agreed to Nizar Zakka’s conditional release and he will be handed over to Lebanese authorities’
  • Zakka was arrested in September 2015 during a visit to Iran, where he was convicted the following July

BEIRUT: Iran on Tuesday freed a Lebanese man detained in 2015 on charges of spying for the United States, a gesture that comes amid soaring tensions between Tehran and Washington.
A US resident in his 50s, Nizar Zakka was arrested in September 2015 during a visit to Iran, where he was convicted the following July.
He is the head of The Arab ICT Organization, a non-profit that advocates the growth and development of information and communications technology in the Middle East.
Before his arrest, he had been taking part in a conference in Tehran at the invitation of Shahindokht Molaverdi, then vice president for women and family affairs, according to his family.
He was stopped on his way to the airport, his family and lawyer have said.
At the time, Iranian state television said he was accused of “deep ties to the military and intelligence services of the United States.”
It broadcast photographs of a man in military uniform it said was of Zakka at a US base.
On Tuesday, Zakka arrived in Lebanon, after his release by Iranian authorities.
He was escorted back to his native country by Lebanon’s General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, who was in Tehran one day earlier, according to the security service.
In a speech at Lebanon’s presidential palace, Zakka declined to elaborate on the circumstances behind his arrest but dismissed the case against him.
“There was no espionage,” he said after meeting President Michel Aoun, accusing Tehran of “kidnapping him” on false charges and staging a “show trial.”
For his part, the general security chief denied speculation Iran’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah played a primary role in brokering Zakka’s release.
“The issue was resolved at the request of the president,” Ibrahim told reporters.
“Hezbollah definitely played a role but the basis (for the release) was a request from the president.”
His comments came in response to a report by Iran’s Fars news agency on Monday that Zakka’s release followed “the request and mediation” of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
“Zaka has been freed and extradited, thanks to Nasrallah’s mediation and the respect Tehran pays to him,” it said, citing an “informed source.”
Tehran has direct control over Hezbollah, its main proxy in the region.
Earlier on Tuesday, a spokesman for Iran’s judiciary Gholamhossein Esmaili said Aoun had requested Zakka’s release “in writing” and Hezbollah had said it would be “expedient.”
“This is an absolutely judicial procedure and no political issue has been involved,” Esmaili was quoted as saying by Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
The US State Department had also called for Zakka to be freed, saying he was unjustly held. Following his arrival in Beirut, the US applauded Zakka’s release by Iran as a “great day” for him and his family and said it hoped the move was a positive sign for Americans detained by Tehran.
“It is without a doubt a great day for Mr. Zakka, his family, and all those who have supported him during his unlawful imprisonment,” a State Department spokeswoman said. “We hope that Mr. Zakka’s release is a positive sign for American detainees in Iran,” she said.
Meanwhile, Zakka’s lawyer appealed for help for other detainees being held in Iranian prisons following his client’s release.
“Nizar expresses his sincerest thanks to those who never forgot him,” Jason Poblete said in an emailed statement.
“Nizar also wants to remind those who can help that there remain many Americans... and other foreigners in Iranian prisons. Nizar grew close to some of these men; they need help and want to come home.”
Iran and the United States broke diplomatic ties in 1980 in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution. Relations have deteriorated sharply since US President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.
At the end of 2017, an Iranian court upheld Zakka’s 10-year jail sentence as well as those of an American and two Iranian-Americans accused of “collaboration” with the United States.
Zakka’s brother Ziad has previously accused Lebanese officials of neglecting his case.
The decision to release him comes amid a stand-off that has been simmering since the United States last year withdrew from the 2015 nuclear treaty which Iran reached with major world powers.
Tensions have intensified since April when the US added Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to its blacklist of “terrorist” organizations and strengthened sanctions against the Islamic republic.
The standoff has worsened recent weeks, after the US military announced it was dispatching reinforcements to the Middle East in response to alleged “Iranian threats” as well as the sabotage of four ships at the entrance to the Gulf on May 12.
Washington and Riyadh have accused Tehran of being behind those attacks, a charge it has dismissed as “laughable.”


Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

Updated 18 August 2019

Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

  • Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel

RAMALLAH: Relatives of a US congresswoman say they support her decision to decline Israel’s offer allowing her to visit them in the West Bank because the “right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions.”

Rashida Tlaib said she would not see her family, even after Israel lifted a ban on her entry, because the government had imposed restrictions on her trip.

“We totally understand her position and support her in her efforts. The right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions,” her uncle Bassam Tlaib told Arab News.

He was speaking from the family home in Beit Ur Al-Fuka, which is 3 km from the West Bank city of Ramallah, and was flanked by his elderly mother.

He said his niece had visited them many times in the past, but there had never been any conditions attached to her travel.

“She said we will meet when she can come without conditions,” Tlaib said. “One idea has been floated of flying the grandmother to the US or finding a way to have the two meetings in a third country. You know my mother is nearing 90 and it is not easy for her to travel but we are checking out all options.”

Tlaib, a Democrat, has criticized Israel’s policy toward Palestinians and had planned to make an official visit to the country.

Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel, local media reported.

But the congresswoman, who is Palestinian-American, lashed out on social media.

“I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies,” she tweeted, using the word sity to refer to her grandmother. “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”

The NGO hosting and organizing the trip, Miftah, has been criticized by supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Hanan Ashrawi, the NGO’s founder, said her staff had organized other congressional trips. “This was the third trip we have organized, and we try to do our work professionally and seriously,” Ashrawi told Arab News. “Our very mission is to promote global dialogue and democracy.”

Ashrawi said the attacks on Miftah were unwarranted.  “Miftah has been targeted with the expressed goal of trying to discredit us even though our record is clear. We believe that they are trying to keep organizing congressional delegations within the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) monopoly, while we are trying to provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about Palestinian life under occupation and to understand the Palestinian narrative by providing opportunities for delegations to see and engage with Palestinians of all walks of life.” 

Ashrawi said Miftah had been “vetted” by the US Congress’ ethics committee. “We might not be able to bring hundreds of congress people like AIPAC, but we can bring a few and have them see, hear and interact with Palestinians.”

US President Donald Trump had called on Israel not to allow Tlaib and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar into Israel as admitting the two “would show great weakness.”

He tweeted that the pair “hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace.”