BEIRUT: Lebanon is set to disregard alleged arrest warrants issued by Syria against prominent Lebanese officials and figures close to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, since Lebanese judicial authorities were not informed of them officially by their Syrian counterparts.
Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar said Tuesday he would refrain from undertaking any contacts with the Syrian authorities with regard to the arrest warrants allegedly issued Sunday until Damascus undertakes the legal steps required.
The Future Movement on Tuesday played down the importance of the alleged warrants, stressing its commitment and that of its leader to Lebanese-Syrian ties based on the reciprocal respect of both country’s sovereignty and their best interests.
A statement issued following the parliamentary bloc’s meeting said relations with Damascus would not be influenced by “passing stances” but would rather remain “solid based on solid foundations.”
“What has been reported in the media about Syrian warrants is regarded up until now as political and media warrants, particularly that the Lebanese state did not receive any documents through official channels,” the statement added.
The attendees added that if media reports proved to be true, Syria would be obliged to respect the bilateral agreements with Lebanon.
As of Tuesday, Lebanese judicial authorities had not been informed officially of the 33 arrests warrants issued by the Syrian judiciary. Former Major General Jamil al-Sayyed said on Sunday that the first investigative magistrate in Damascus had issued the warrants based on a lawsuit he presented.
A well-informed judicial source told The Daily Star that in line with international laws, Syria’s Foreign Ministry should inform its Lebanese counterpart of the warrants and it would in turn notify the Justice Ministry, which would refer the issue to the Lebanese judiciary.
The source said the judiciary would consider the validity of the warrants after requesting that the judicial documents related to the case be handed to it by the Syrian judiciary.
After evaluating the case, the Lebanese judiciary would decide whether to implement the arrest warrants but even in that case, it would not hand any individuals to the Syrian authorities since the alleged crime took place on Lebanese territories and by Lebanese citizens.
The Future Movement statement added that the reported issue “was a backward and negative step that was set as a stumbling block facing Lebanese state officials,” particularly President Michel Sleiman and Hariri, who sought to strengthen ties with Damascus.
In a sharper tone, Hariri’s ally, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea accused Damascus on Tuesday of seeking to abolish the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) by exploiting the issue of false witnesses.
Geagea questioned the timing of the warrants, particularly that they came in anticipation of a Lebanese proposal by the Justice Ministry to determine a legal framework to investigate false witnesses in the probe into the killing of former premier Rafik Hariri. “Are intentions behind the Syrian move true with regard to uncovering false witnesses or an attempt to attack the STL?” he asked.
But Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt maintained Tuesday his support of the warrants while criticizing March 14 parties for hampering ties with Damascus.
Following a meeting with the US Ambassador to Lebanon, Jumblatt expressed his surprise over statements that warrants were aimed against Hariri “who himself confirmed the presence of false witnesses.”