‘Complex’ deal to release Lebanese businessman after 4 years in Iran jail

Zakka arrived in Beirut on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 12 June 2019

‘Complex’ deal to release Lebanese businessman after 4 years in Iran jail

  • Beirut denies man’s freedom is linked to talks over two prisoners in US ‘important to Iran’

BEIRUT: The release of a Lebanese businessman on Tuesday after nearly four years in an Iranian prison may be linked to “complex” talks over two Lebanese prisoners being held in the US, analysts have told Arab News.

Nizar Zakka, an information technology specialist who holds US residency, was detained in Tehran in 2015. Iranian media described him as a US spy and he was sentenced to 10 years in jail and fined $4.2 million.

Zakka arrived in Beirut on Tuesday after Lebanon’s government secured his freedom. The circumstances of Zakka’s release were “complex,” Asaad Haidar, a Lebanese expert on Iran, told Arab News.

“This is a declaration of Iranian goodwill toward the Americans,” he said. “Zakka’s release is aimed at exchanging his freedom for the release of people who are being held by the US, including two Lebanese, Ali Kourani and Kassim Tajideen, who are important to Iran.”

Kourani, 34, a Lebanese American, is being prosecuted in a New York court on charges of supporting terrorism. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment.

BACKGROUND

• Nizar Zakka, an information technology specialist who holds US residency, was detained in Tehran in 2015.

• Iranian media described him as a US spy and he was sentenced to 10 years in jail and fined $4.2 million.

Tajideen, 63, a Lebanese businessman from the southern town of Hanaouay, built a global network of food and property companies with his brothers. He was accused by Washington of financing terrorism, and arrested in Morocco in March 2017.

“Tajideen is essential to Iran and they want to move reopen his case because no one has mentioned him since his arrest,” Haidar said.

“It is important to monitor the outcome of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s visit to Tehran on Wednesday, and his meeting with Iranian officials.  These are real negotiations whose results will emerge later.”

Nevertheless, officials in Lebanon and Zakka himself denied on Tuesday that his release was linked to a swap deal.

“This was an initiative that began and ended in Lebanon, a national job. The results were positive and stopped many actions that would have affected the region,” Zakka said.

Sources at the presidential palace told Arab News Zakka’s release was the result of “an intervention by President Michel Aoun with the Iranian authorities. 

“He … summoned the Iranian ambassador and asked him to refer his request to President Hassan Rouhani, and he responded positively. Everything said and written outside this context is absolutely unfounded.”

Zakka arrived in Beirut on a private jet, along with Lebanon’s national security chief, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim. 

“I do not make deals,” Ibrahim said. “But Tajideen is on my mind. I met him in prison in 2017 and this matter is not up.”


Yemen coalition strikes caves used by Houthis to store missiles and drones

Updated 20 August 2019

Yemen coalition strikes caves used by Houthis to store missiles and drones

  • Coalition advised civilians to stay away from military sites
  • Strikes follow a Houthi drone attack on a Saudi Aramco gas plant on Saturday

JEDDAH: The Arab coalition in Yemen launched an attack Monday on Houthi military targets in Sanaa.

The coalition advised civilians to stay away from the targeted areas, Saudi Arabia’s Al Ekhbariya TV channel said.

A report by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) quoted Col. Turki Al-Maliki, coalition spokesman, as saying the Joint Forces Command carried out at past 10 p.m. a specific military operation "to destroy a number of caves used by the Houthi terrorist militia to store ballistic missiles, drones as well as weapons."

The caves are located in Faj Atan and Al-A'amd camp in the capital Sana'a, he said.

Al-Maliki stressed that the targeting process "is in accordance with international humanitarian law and customary rules, and that the command of the joint forces of the coalition took all preventive measures and measures to protect civilians from any collateral damage."

The strikes happened hours after the coalition accused the Houthis of endangering global energy security when they attacked a Saudi Aramco plant on Saturday.

Houthi militants claimed they used a number of drones to hit the Shaybah gas facility, but Saudi Arabia said operations were unaffected and no one was injured. 

The attack by the Iran-backed Houthis was the latest using drones laden with explosives to target the Kingdom’s infrastructure.

The militants, who sparked the Yemen conflict in 2014 by seizing Sanaa from the internationally-recognized government, have targeted oil pipeline infrastructure and Abha airport in the south.