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Lebanon News

Signs point to Mawlawi release next week, Tripoli truce holds

A preacher addresses the crowd assembled at Nour Square in Tripoli.

TRIPOLI/BEIRUT: A shaky truce held for the fourth day in Tripoli Friday as signs emerged that Islamist Shadi Mawlawi, whose arrest ignited the deadly clashes in the northern city, would be released next week, legal sources said. Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr rejected Friday a request from Mawlawi’s lawyer Mohammad Hafeza to release him.

Instead, Saqr decided that further interrogation with Mawlawi was needed before issuing his decision.

The move secured an additional four-day lull amid fears of renewed hostilities between armed supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Judicial sources told The Daily Star that Military Investigating Judge Nabil Wehbi would hold an interrogation session Tuesday.

However, legal sources told The Daily Star that the military prosecutor’s decision to hasten the investigation with Mawlawi was “a sign pointing to the possibility of releasing him” Tuesday.

This was confirmed by Mawlawi’s lawyer Hafeza, who said that his client was innocent and would be released Tuesday. In an interview with LBCI television, Hafeza said if Mawlawi was ever charged, “the charge would be petty and would not go beyond transporting arms.” The lawyer has said his client had committed no crime.

Saqr has charged Mawlawi, 25, with belonging to an “armed terrorist group” intending to carry out acts of terror inside Lebanon and abroad. The judicial sources said Mawlawi’s case was built on the suspicion that he was a link between Abdel-Aziz Atiyeh, a Qatari who donated money to rebels in Syria, and the man who received the money and sent it to the rebels.

Hafeza said Mawlawi has denied during interrogation sessions all these accusations or any links to the Al-Qaeda organization or other extremist organizations.

The fighting in Tripoli erupted after Mawlawi was arrested last Saturday and accused of belonging to a “terrorist organization.”

Following news of Saqr’s decision, some 5,000 people assembled at Tripoli’s main Nour Square in response to calls by local preachers and families of detained Islamists for the Friday prayer.

“The sit-in will continue until Tuesday, but roads to Nour Square will remain open,” Sheikh Salem Rafei said in his sermon.

Rafei focused in his sermon on the case of Mawlawi and detained Islamists, recalling a meeting with Interior Minister Marwan Charbel during which it was agreed to continue the sit-in in Nour Square but without blocking roads.

Rafei called on the parties in Tripoli, including the Alawite residents of Jabal Mohsen, “to meet together and sign a treaty prohibiting fighting, renouncing violence and allowing Tripoli’s residents to live in peace.”

He also called on President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati to act to undo injustice on the detained Islamists. He urged the protesters not to block roads in Tripoli or disrupt traffic.

“We see that the judiciary is heading in the right direction. Therefore, we will continue a peaceful sit-in without blocking roads,” Rafei said. “We have to adhere to a peaceful movement because the Assad regime’s plan calls for portraying the Sunnis in Tripoli as terrorists and extremists who block roads.”

Around 180 Islamists have been jailed for more than four years without charges or trials. The detained Islamists were arrested on charges of fighting or aiding fighters during the 2007 armed clashes between the Lebanese Army and the Palestinian militant group Fatah al-Islam in the northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in Tripoli.

In Beirut, Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani served judicial authorities with a two-month deadline to act on the case of detained Islamists, threatening to stage a large sit-in in central Beirut to highlight their plight.

Speaking in a sermon after Friday prayers in Mohammad Amin Mosque in Downtown Beirut, Qabbani vowed not to keep silent on what he called the judiciary’s “negligence” to act on the issue of Islamist inmates. He also criticized political leaders, blaming them for the disintegration of state institutions.

“From our position and religious and national responsibilities, we will not from now on be lenient on the judiciary’s negligence to treat the Islamist detainees fairly. Those detainees are Lebanese held in their country’s prisons which have been turned into dark and repressive detention centers humiliating for human beings and human rights,” Qabbani said. “It is high time for the Lebanese judiciary to release the innocent among the Islamist detainees held without charges and try the accused in fair trials instead of letting them languish in the cells of suppression and humiliation without charges or trials.”

“Following all the delay, procrastination, promises and stalling by officials for over four years, we today give all the authorities concerned in the country a July deadline to finalize the case of Islamist detainees before resorting to appropriate means to undo injustice inflicted on our sons who are deliberately forgotten in the state’s prisons,” Qabbani said. He added that the first of these measures is to stage “a large sit-in at Riad al-Solh Square in central Beirut with the participation of anyone across Lebanon who supports right and freedom.”

He warned that clashes in Tripoli could spread to other areas. Praising the Lebanese Army as “a uniting national institution,” Qabbani called on the military to impose security and end the rule of attaining security by mutual consent.

Meanwhile, the shaky truce was breached by the firing of a rocket-propelled grenade at the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood. No one was hurt.

Tripoli MP Mohammad Kabbara accused Jabal Mohsen gunmen of firing the grenade while he was inspecting the area.

Speaking to The Daily Star while he received well-wishers at his office in Tripoli, Kabbara, a member of the parliamentary Future bloc, said: “The Jabal Mohsen gang is carrying out a Syrian agenda and does not want calm and security.” He called on Sleiman, Mikati and the Army command to act to impose security and stability in Tripoli “which can no longer endure more security, economic and living setbacks.”

For his part, Sleiman expressed satisfaction with the measures taken by the Lebanese Army and security forces to restore calm to Tripoli.

Sleiman followed up the situation in Tripoli during a telephone conversation with Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, who briefed him on the measures taken by military and security forces to maintain security and stability in Tripoli and prevent attempts aimed at undermining civil peace in the country, the president’s office said in a statement.

Sleiman voiced satisfaction with the measures taken, hoping that all the parties will comply with the citizens’ desire for calm and for adopting dialogue as a means to solve any problem or dispute, the statement said.

At least 11 people have been killed and 70 others wounded since the clashes began Saturday between rival gunmen from the Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhoods in Tripoli where sectarian tension has been simmering over the 15-month-old popular upheaval against the Assad regime. While residents in mostly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh support the Syrian revolution, residents in predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen back the Assad regime.

Separately, some 300 people demonstrated after Friday prayers in Tripoli’s Qibbeh neighborhood to show solidarity with the Syrian people. The demonstration, led by Sheikh Zakariya Masri, an outspoken critic of the Syrian regime, was joined by Syrian refugees living in Tripoli.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 19, 2012, on page 1.

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