Beirut – The prisoner exchange deal between Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” and al-Nusra Front extremists was met with wide condemnation among Lebanese politicians, who said that the deal “undermined the sovereignty of the state.
The deal saw terrorist fugitives wanted by the Lebanese judiciary exchanged for the release of “Hezbollah” members that were detained by the militant Nusra group in Syria.
Head of the Kataeb Party MP Sami Gemayel asked: “Who took the decision and allowed murderous criminals to leave the outskirts of Arsal and facilitated their return to their country without trial and punishment?”
Directing his questions to the parliament speaker, prime minister and ministers of interior, justice and defense, he asked: “Who took the decision to jump above the Lebanese judiciary and release criminals accused of terrorism and belonging to a terrorist group to be released from Lebanese jails?”
“Who took the decision to allow political and security authorities to intervene in the judiciary and prevent the trial of the terrorists and detainees and thereby achieve justice? What is the justice minister’s stance from all this? Is this a strategy that the government will adopt in dealing with all terrorists who violate Lebanon’s security? How will the Lebanese government deter other terrorist and criminal groups and whoever deigns to violate Lebanese sovereignty?” he wondered.
Gemayel demanded that the prime minister and ministers of interior, justice and defense submit a written response to his inquiries, “otherwise my questions will be turned into an interrogation.”
A judicial source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the decision to release a few al-Nusra Front detainees was “faultless” and based on trial norms.
In addition, he explained that the time the detainees already spent in jail is equal to the time that they would have been sentenced to once put on trial.
The Military Tribunal will go ahead in trying those who have been released. If they do not respond to the court summons, they will be tried in absentia and as fugitives. The trials are set to begin soon, he added.
Sentences against them will be issued in absentia and harsher punishments will be laid down against them, elaborated the source.
Mustaqbal Movement MP Amin Wehbeh meanwhile voiced his support for Gemayel’s stance, telling Asharq Al-Awsat that the “Hezbollah” and Nusra deal “undermined” the sovereignty of the Lebanese state.
“The decisions of war and peace are in the hands of the party, not the state, seeing as it is waging its battles in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and has terrorist cells in Kuwait and the Arab Gulf that are carrying out Iran’s policies,” he added.
“Hezbollah” had in the past and on several occasions criticized the 2016 swap deal that was struck between the Lebanese state and Nusra Front that saw the release of the Lebanese soldiers by the extremist group. “Hezbollah” had rejected that a number of Nusra detainees be released “because they were being held on terrorist charges.”
In wake of the Arsal clashes in July, the party adopted a different stance and insisted on “speeding up the deal with al-Nusra in order to free its fighters” from its clutches.
Kataeb MP Fadi al-Haber said that recent prisoner exchange “proves that the political decision-making power in Lebanon lies in the hands of ‘Hezbollah’.”
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the equation of the army-people-resistance, which the party “is imposing on ministerial statements, is being invested on the borders, whether in declaring war with Israel or armed groups or in waging wars abroad.”