BEIRUT: Interior Minister Marwan Charbel will propose the creation of an official committee to pursue the case of Lebanese prisoner George Abdallah with French authorities during a Cabinet session Tuesday.
“I will propose to the Cabinet tomorrow [Tuesday] the formation of a ministerial committee to follow up on this matter so that the negotiations will be between two states rather than between demonstrators and a state,” Charbel told The Daily Star Monday, just hours after meeting Abdallah’s brother and activists who are lobbying for the prisoner’s release.
“When the state handles this matter, [protesters] should not pelt the [French] Embassy with eggs and tomatoes anymore,” Charbel said. He added that once the committee was formed, he would discuss with the protesters the removal of the tent.
The delegation which visited Charbel included George’s brother Joseph and activists Hasan Sabra and Hadi Bikdash. “The minister said that he would push for forming a ministerial committee to follow up on the matter during the Cabinet session,” George Abdallah said after the meeting.
“When this committee is formed and makes enough efforts ... we will act accordingly. The sit-in will continue until we feel that there are serious efforts to deport this kidnapped man from France to Lebanon.”
Asked about plans to target French interests, Abdallah said that the protests the campaign was staging were legal and authorized by all international conventions.
“All we are doing is expressing our anger in a democratic and civilized manner as permitted by Lebanese laws,” Abdallah said.
The brother added that Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces personnel had dealt responsibly with the protesters, while in France, authorities were arresting demonstrators who were demanding the release of Abdallah and at the same time claiming to respect human rights.
For his part, Sabra said that the meeting with Charbel had been positive. “We told him we want the Interior, Justice and Foreign ministries to help us, even if this requires sending delegations to France. He told us he will propose the formation of a ministerial committee, and we told him this is what we want ... I think a committee is likely to be formed.”
Sabra said Charbel had expressed his irritation with protesters throwing food items at the French Embassy. “We told him this is the minimum that people who have been waiting for someone for 29 years should do.”
Sabra said that protests across Lebanon would continue. “Tomorrow [Tuesday], members of the student council of the Lebanese University campus in Nabatieh will hold a protest near the office of the French Cultural Institute.” He was adamant that the tent near the French Embassy would only be removed when Abdallah was released. “We and George will celebrate his release near the French Embassy and he will be removing the first stake of the tent.”
The International Campaign to Free George Abdallah has held a series of protests near French institutions in Lebanon over the past week to pressure France to finally deport Abdallah. Protesters erected a tent and began a sit-in near the French Embassy in Beirut, pelting the mission with objects on more then one occasion.
Earlier in January, a court decided that 61-year-old Abdallah, who has been in French prison since 1984, could be released on condition that he be deported back home, but the French Interior Ministry refused to sign the deportation order. Abdallah was convicted by a French court for the 1982 murders in Paris of Israeli diplomat Yaakov Bar-Simantov and Lt. Col. Charles Ray, a U.S. military attache.