BEIRUT: Supporters of George Abdallah announced a series of protests to pressure France to expedite his release while the French envoy to Lebanon, Patrice Paoli, urged patience Tuesday.
“We will stage more protests across Lebanon and we will not back down until Abdallah comes back home,” said Hasan Sabra, one of Abdallah’s supporters who spoke on behalf of the International Campaign to Free George Abdallah.
Speaking from the scene of a sit-in which protesters began outside the French Embassy in Beirut Monday, Sabra said there will be a sit-in and no classes at the Lebanese University’s Institute of Social Sciences in Tripoli Wednesday. Prominent figures of Qobayat, Abdallah’s hometown in Akkar, will also express solidarity Wednesday, he said.
A sit-in will be held Friday near the French Cultural Center in Sidon and a demonstration outside the French Embassy in Beirut, Sabra added. Protesters will gather near the French Interior Ministry in Paris Saturday as well.
“We appreciate the statements of Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, but what they are doing is not enough,” said fellow activist Bassam Kantar.
“A ministerial committee should be formed to follow up on the case and keep Abdallah’s family updated about the procedures of his deportation,” Sabra added.
A group calling itself The Friends of George Abdallah called for a protest near the French Cultural Center in Sidon, also issuing threats of escalatory measures against all French interests in the country.
“We call on all the friends of George Abdallah to protest near the French Cultural Center in Sidon Thursday at 12 p.m.,” said a leaflet by the group distributed in Sidon. “Our message is clear: All French interests are a potential scene for our protests as long as they [France] hold a resistance fighter named George Abdallah.”
A French court postponed the decision on the release of Abdallah, who has been in jail since 1984, till Jan. 28, causing outrage among his supporters.
A court decided last week that the 61-year-old Lebanese national be released on condition that he be deported back home, but the French Interior Ministry refused to sign the order to expel Monday.
Arrested in 1984, Abdallah was convicted by a French court in the 1982 murders in Paris of Israeli diplomat Yaakov Bar-Simantov and Lt. Col. Charles Ray, a U.S. military attaché.
He was also implicated in the attempted assassination of U.S. Consul General Robert Homme in Strasbourg in 1984. His family and supporters argue that accusations against him were fabricated and that his continuous arrest is due to U.S. and Israeli pressure.
France’s Ambassador to Lebanon Patrice Paoli urged patience Tuesday over the case after holding talks with Lebanese Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour.
“We are waiting for the decision and contrary to what has been said, no final decisions have been made regarding this issue ... the court will make a ruling Jan. 28, as has been announced,” he told reporters.
“There is also a decision to deport Abdallah from France that the interior minister makes ... I will not comment on judicial decisions and I think we should be patient, I understand the feelings of disappointment of these people [Abdallah’s family and supporters],” he said.
But Sabra said that the French Judiciary has already had its say. “What decision is France waiting for? The French Judiciary has announced its decision to release him [Abdallah] and all appeal measures have been exhausted,” Sabra said. “The French interior minister should sign the deportation order,” he added.
Outraged by the delay in releasing Abdallah, protesters began a sit-in near the French Embassy in Beirut Monday. They briefly blocked the road near the mission and threw eggs and stones at the embassy’s building, chanting slogans against France. About a dozen protesters remained Tuesday in the tent they had set up near a Lebanese Army post across from the embassy.
“The demonstration yesterday was an expression of repression and disappointment of [Abdallah’s] family that were waiting for his release,” said Paoli, adding that he understood such feelings.
Paoli said he would relay to French authorities the eagerness of Lebanese authorities and Mansour to resolve Abdallah’s case.
Asked to comment on reports that the United States had asked France to postpone its decision, Paoli said: “The decision in France is independently made by the French judiciary and by the French government.”
President Michel Sleiman discussed with Paoli at Baabda Palace the case of Abdallah.
For its part, the Future parliamentary bloc of Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri voiced surprise over France’s delay in releasing Abdallah.
In a statement after its weekly meeting, the bloc urged French authorities to respect the decisions of the French judiciary by releasing Abdallah, who completed his sentence, and said holding him further was unjustifiable.