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Lebanese in Israel give Mikati Cabinet ultimatum: report

SLA members and families leave Lebanon in 2000. Daily Star archive

BEIRUT: Lebanese refugees in Israel reportedly threatened to resort to international courts if the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati failed to grant them amnesty.

A report published Tuesday by pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat said the few hundred Lebanese families residing in Israel since the end of the 1990 Civil War have threatened to sue the Mikati government if they are not “honorably repatriated.”

“We will give them two months, until year’s end, after which we will resort to international courts to demand amnesty and to guarantee our financial and moral rights if our repatriation did not take place in an honorable way,” said a letter issued by Lebanese refugees in Israel.

The letter, Al-Hayat said, had been sent to Mikati, President Michel Sleiman and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Parliament last week passed a draft law facilitating the return of Lebanese who fled to Israel in the wake of its withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000.

Under the urgent draft law, which was submitted by MPs from Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanese who joined the South Lebanon Army – an Israeli-allied militia that operated in southern Lebanon during the Civil War – or collaborated with it would be arrested by Lebanese authorities on the border upon their return and tried under Lebanese law.

Fearing retribution for the SLA’s cooperation with Israel, some 6,500 Lebanese left for Israel, where they received residency, eventual citizenship, and some financial support.

In the absence of a written law, the state has been allowing returns to take place with the help of international organizations. Among those who have not come back, and are unlikely to do so in the future, are the SLA members or collaborators who fear arrest under the new law.

In its dispatch from occupied Jerusalem, Al-Hayat said several Lebanese considered the new law as “provocative.”

Saeed Ghattas, who is in charge of the Lebanon dossier at the office of Israeli Minister Yossi Peled, said the new law brought nothing new.

“Hundreds of Lebanese families returned to Lebanon over the past 10 years and hundreds have been sentenced while others paid fines that reached $20,000,” Ghattas said.

Lebanese refugees, he said, reject accusations of collaboration and insist that the Lebanese government grant them “a pardon.”

 

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