True||Long-time prisoner George Abdallah will be freed after 28 years behind bars in France, on condition that he is expelled from the country, a French court ruled Thursday.||

BEIRUT: Long-time prisoner George Abdallah will be freed after 28 years behind bars in France, on condition that he is expelled from the country, a French court ruled Thursday. The French Interior Ministry has until Jan.14 to expel the 61-year-old.

“[George] telephoned me and informed me of the French decision,” said Joseph Abdallah, George’s brother.

“We are pleased that the French judiciary has restored its stature and is no longer succumbing to U.S. pressure [to keep George in prison],” Abdallah told The Daily Star.

“We are also happy to see this prisoner back with his family,” said Joseph, who hasn’t seen his brother since 1984.

A member of the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions, Abdallah was arrested by French authorities in 1984 and sentenced to life in prison in 1987 over his involvement in the 1982 assassinations of American Lt. Col. Charles Ray and Israeli diplomat Yacov Barsimentov, in Paris.

The French judiciary issued repeated rejections of his requests for parole since he became eligible for release in 1999. Abdallah’s family and supporters argue that the accusations against him were fabricated and that U.S. pressure was keeping him in jail.

The court granted Abdallah a parole in November of last year but an appeal by the state prosecutor kept him behind bars.

U.S. Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin opposed granting parole to Abdallah, saying he had never expressed remorse and could still pose a threat if freed.

Abdallah’s lawyer welcomed the ruling and said he hoped the government would not give in to U.S. pressure, and refuse to expel him.

“I welcome this ruling as I had asked the French courts not to act like a whore for the American pimp,” said Jacques Verges.

The decision to release Abdallah is the result of relentless efforts, according to Hasan Sabra, a Lebanese activist who has been lobbying for his release over the past years.

“We said we would stand with him until his release, and this is what happened,” Sabra added. “The French judiciary was obliged to meet our demand, given the pressure that we and his family exerted [on it].”

Sabra is the representative of the Union of Lebanese Democratic Youth, a leftist organization that is a member of the International Campaign to Free George Abdallah, which was launched by Abdallah’s family and several organizations around six years ago.

Sabra has been in contact with Abdallah for the past seven years.

“He is a very knowledgeable person and aware of all what is happening in our region ... we will receive him in Lebanon as a hero and tell the world that he is a man of resistance, in the full sense of the word,” he said.

The ICFGA celebrated the decision to release him in a gathering near the Boustros Pharmacy in Beirut, the scene of the first military operation carried out by the secular, leftist Lebanese National Resistance Front against Israeli troops who invaded Beirut in 1982.

The campaign urged the Lebanese authorities to take all diplomatic and logistic measures to secure Abdallah’s return to Lebanon as soon as possible.

The group also held the French authorities responsible for facilitating the process of his return and guaranteeing his safety until he reaches Lebanon. – With AFP