BEIRUT: Activists held a protest outside the French mission in Beirut Monday in protest of France’s postponement of the deportation of George Abdallah as Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for the speedy release of the leftist militant.
Also Monday, Hezbollah slammed the decision to delay Abdallah’s release, accusing France of yielding to U.S. wishes the Lebanese remain imprisoned.
Patriotic war songs blared from loudspeakers outside the French Embassy as protesters, who numbered some 200, threw eggs and tomatoes at the French mission in Mathaf, Beirut, and called for the imminent deportation of the Lebanese citizen who was pardoned by a French court in December.
Earlier Monday, the head of the Lebanese Communist Party Khaled Hadadeh told The Daily Star that France had postponed Abdallah’s deportation.
Over the weekend, friends, family and supporters of Abdallah had prepared for his return, with receptions planned at the airport and in his home village of Qobaiyat, organizers said.
Protesters tried on several occasions Monday to breach the gates of the French Embassy, security sources said, where authorities beefed up security including the deployment of Armored Personal Carriers.
The demonstrators also managed to briefly block the road to the Embassy.
The activists warned the sit-in would be open-ended and set up at least one tent outside the French mission.
Abdallah, a leftist militant, was arrested in 1984 and later convicted by a French court of the 1982 killing in Paris of Israeli diplomat Yaakov Bar-Simantov and Lt. Col. Charles Ray, an American military attache.
He was also implicated in the attempted assassination of U.S. Consul General Robert Homme in Strasbourg in 1984.
Last week, a French court ruled Abdallah be released on condition he be deported back to Lebanon. The ruling marks the end of a legal battle spanning 10 years. The Lebanese national fulfilled the minimum requirement of his life sentence in 1999.
Lebanon’s prime minister criticized Monday the delay in deporting Abdallah and urged Paris allow the deportation to proceed.
“Mikati called the French ambassador to Lebanon Patrice Paoli, demanding an explanation about the reasons behind the delay in releasing the Lebanese citizen George Abdallah who has been held in French prisons,” the statement said.
The head of the Lebanese government said there was no justification for the delay and urged Paris set the 61-year-old free.
“The delay in Abdallah’s release is completely unjustified and goes against his civil rights,” said Mikati.
“The relevant French authorities should release him quickly so that he can return to his homeland and rejoin his family,” he added.
According to the statement, the Cabinet has been closely following up on the release of Abdallah and waiting for his homecoming.
Earlier Monday, Hadadeh told The Daily Star that France had delayed Abdallah’s deportation.
“We haven’t received the official documents from France but we have been informed that the procedures relating to his deportation have been postponed until Jan. 28,” Hadadeh said.
The French Embassy in Lebanon would not comment Monday on the news of the postponement.
Hadadeh slammed the deportation delay, saying it demonstrated Abdallah’s case had been politicized.
“This proves Abdallah’s case has been politicized,” said Hadadeh, lashing out at French authorities.
“They have been using the judiciary to hide the political reasons behind keeping Abdallah imprisoned,” he said.
“But now, as there is no longer judicial justification for his imprisonment, politicians are starting direct interference,” he added.
Hezbollah also slammed Monday French authorities over the delay in releasing Abdallah, accusing the United States and Israel of exerting pressure on France to keep the Lebanese man behind bars.
“The French authorities are procrastinating in terms of releasing Lebanese fighter George Ibrahim Abdallah as they are yielding to a campaign of blackmail by the U.S. administration,” said a statement released by the party Monday afternoon.
Last week, the U.S. envoy to France openly opposed Abdallah’s release, voicing disapproval of the news of his deportation.
Hezbollah also questioned the sovereignty of the judiciary and the values of equal rights in the West.
“The continuous yielding of the French authorities to the U.S. administration and the Zionist entity [Israel] proves the independence and sovereignty of the judiciary in the West is a false claim,” the resistance group said.
It urged Lebanese authorities to follow up on the issue until Abdallah’s release was secured and called on the Lebanese people “to show popular solidarity with Abdallah in this crucial stage of his case.”
The LCP head echoed a similar view that France was meeting a U.S. desire that Abdallah remain imprisoned.
Hadadeh also lashed out at the Lebanese government, saying Beirut was failing to take any action.
“We urge the [country’s] top three leaders – President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati – to take action today and press for the deportation of Abdallah,” said Hadadeh.
“He is a Lebanese citizen. How is it that the state is not doing anything about his case?” he asked.
Hadadeh said supporters of Abdallah would carry out large-scale protests outside the French mission in Lebanon to press for the release of the 61-year-old.
“For us, Abdallah is no longer a prisoner, he has been kidnapped by France and we will stage protests outside the French Embassy in Lebanon to put pressure for his return,” he said.
Hadadeh said that his party would continue to work toward securing Abdallah’s release.
“The deportation order has been postponed,” said Hadadeh. “But, we vow to take action... we will not keep silent on this matter,” he added.