Monday, July 21, 2008


Visiting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem was met by protesters demanding information about the fate of Lebanese who disappeared during the Syrian occupation and whom many believe are held in Syrian prisoners. The Syria's foreign minister was visiting Beirut on Monday on a trip set to usher in a new page in relations between the two countries.

Families of the disappeared organized a protest along the road leading from the airport to the presidential palace to coincide with the Syrian minister's visit.

The protesters presented to a palace official a memo to President Michel Suleiman calling for revealing the fate of their loved ones.

Ghazi Aad, who heads a committee representing the protesters, said "we have evidence … with us here today we have ex-detainees who confirm that there are Lebanese detainees in Syrian jails."

It has been reported that many of those demonstrating were roughed up by the police.

Naharanet reports Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun on Monday urged the cabinet to assign a minister without portfolio to the task of following up the issue of Lebanese detainees in Syria.

Aoun, talking to reporters after a meeting by members of his Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, expressed "regret" for the alleged beating up of relatives of the missing citizens who were protesting..

"We cannot ignore the issue of the detainees (in Syrian jails)," he added.

Aoun also called for setting up a "DNA Bank" to help identify remains of Lebanese citizens who went missing in the past three decades.

"This tragedy should end," he said.

Aoun said the Lebanese President did bring up the issue with the visiting Syrian official.

According to SOLIDE (Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile) at a minimum 600 Lebanese have been 'missing' in Syria's prisons since the Civil War (1975-90), and about half of them should be still alive.

Ghazi Aad, founder of SOLIDE, told Der Spiegel three years ago, "...those on the left and right, Muslims and Christians, Druze and Palestinians were all equally effected." Aad believes that the Syrians were using the "disappearances" as a method to bring the Lebanese under their control. Whoever had a relative disappear would then behave themselves by conforming to the system -- so that they wouldn't jeopardise the chances of seeing their loved ones again. This is why so few cases were made public he says.

Syria has denied on several occasions having Lebanese detainees in its prisons. But in 2000, it released a number of Lebanese captives several years after their abductions from Lebanon.

The following is from the Daily Star (Lebanon).

Army breaks up protest against detainees in Syria
Demonstrators demand release of Lebanese prisoners held since civil war
By Jessica Naimeh

BEIRUT: Parents of Lebanese held in Syrian prisons went once again to the streets on Monday morning protesting against the detention in Syria of their relatives. The demonstration took an unfortunate turn of events as the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) violently forced the protesters to move away as they were trying to intercept Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem's convoy to the presidential palace in Baabda.

The protest was organized with the help of the civil society representatives, human-rights associations and local and international NGOs.

The groups have held similar demonstrations in the past, but this time, the protest was called to coincide with Moallem's visit to Lebanon.

"We, as civil society organizations, want to confirm the existence of Lebanese detainees in Syrian prisons," said Ghazi Aad, founder of Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile (SOLIDE), an NGO which has longed worked to uncover the fate of Lebanese detainees in Syrian prisons.

Parents and relatives of Lebanese citizens who disappeared between 1975 and 2005 gathered around 10:30 a.m. next to the presidential palace in Baabda, where Moallem was expected to arrive.

Many protestors held pictures of their detained or lost relatives as well as banners with slogans written in Arabic such as "no [diplomatic] relations before the return [of the Lebanese held in Syrian prisons]" or "not only are there [prisoners] in Israel, but in Syria as well."

As Moallem's convoy was about to reach the presidential palace, demonstrators tried to block the road and were aggressively pushed and beaten up by LAF forces. Some demonstrators suffered wounds as a result.

In a news conference after his parliamentary bloc's meeting on Monday, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun said clashes between demonstrators and the LAF "were truly unfortunate," adding that the new government would "double efforts" to uncover the fate of detainees in Syrian prisons issue as "the fate of these missing people could not be ignored."

According to a researcher with Human Rights Watch, Nadim Houri, who took part in Monday's protest, the demonstrators were "violently pushed by the LAF who used the bottoms of their rifles" to move the crowd away. He said that none of the protesters was armed, so there was "no need to resort to such kind of violence."

Houri told The Daily Star that mothers of detainees were violently pushed in the process, saying that the "LAF ought to adopt strict guidelines that ban the use of violence to disperse demonstrators."

Before the incidents occurred, head of Union for Lebanon Massoud al-Ashkar told reporters "the detainees issue was more important than the normalization of the Lebanese-Syrian diplomatic relations or the border demarcation between the two neighboring countries."

Ashkar added that Lebanon "managed to bring back home Lebanese held in Israeli prisons and that the same should be done for those who were detained in Syrian prisons." On Wednesday, five prisoners and 200 bodies were handed to Hizbullah by the Israel as part of a prisoner swap deal.

Despite the brawl with the LAF, demonstrators were able to send a seven-point letter to Sleiman who, in his inaugural speech, expressed his will to deal with the issue of the detainees. The letter called for including the prisoners' issue in the upcoming ministerial statement.

It also called on forming a national commission to look into the issue of the detainees in Syria, as well as creating a DNA database through the missing people's relatives.

It also said an international investigative commission should be created, "as a last resort," to find out the missing people's whereabouts and their fate. According to the letter, the international commission should also try those who committed these "crimes against humanity."

Echoing remarks made by Moallem during a news conference on Monday about the existence of Syrian detainees in Lebanese prisons, Houri told The Daily Star that there were actually names of Syrians who disappeared in Lebanon during the 1975-90 Civil War. "It is surprising that Syria never bothered dealing with this issue [when it was controlling the country]," he said, adding that information about Syrian detainees in Lebanese prisons can "be easily made available" as they (Lebanese prisons) were accessible to the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations.

Houri said that Syria had to give a "serious and transparent list of Lebanese and non-Lebanese detainees abducted on Lebanese soil." While the Syrian authorities have always avoided giving out information about the Lebanese prisoners, some detainees' parents said they had proof about their children's imprisonment in Syria as they were able to contact and sometimes visit them.

According to Houri, most of the detainees have never even been sentenced and if they had been, it was in an unfair trial.

Houri also said that although "some progress" is possible, the "detainees' relatives needed to see concrete actions because they have in the past received too many unrealized promises."

No comments: