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Hezbollah bashes opponents of Samaha’s release

Anti-Assad Lebanese politicians slammed the ex-minister’s release on bail, while residents of Sunni areas took to the streets in protest.

Mohammad Raad. (AFP/Ramzi Haidar)

BEIRUT – A top Hezbollah legislator has launched a broadside against opponents of Michel Samaha’s release from jail, while protests erupted Friday in Beirut over the granting of bail to the ex-minister found guilty of plotting terror attacks in Lebanon on behalf of the Syrian regime.

 

“The noisy programmed statements that opposed todays decision by the Lebanese judiciary to release Samaha are no more than an expression of petulance, maliciousness and selective judgment,” MP Mohammad Raad, the leader of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, said late Thursday night.

 

He added that critics of the former minister’s release, specifically members of the pro-Western March 14 coalition, had taken a “capricious and temperamental” position.

 

“There was no longer any legal justification for his detention to continue,” Raad also said, in reference to the light four-and-a-half years prison sentence passed against Samaha for “trying to carry out terrorist actions and belonging to an armed group.”

 

Samaha was formally indicted in February 2013 alongside Syrian political security chief Ali Mamlouk on charges of “transporting explosives from Syria to Lebanon to assassinate political and religious leaders.”

 

The former tourism and information minister was set to be released from prison by the end of 2015 counting “time served,” as Samaha has been incarcerated since his arrest in August 2012.

 

The military court’s light sentence in May 2015 sparked furor among March 14 supporters as well as Sunni residents in northern Lebanon, who were the planned target of the terror attacks Samaha was coordinating.

 

In June, Lebanon’s Military Court of Cassation accepted an appeal to hold a re-trial of Samaha in-lieu of his short sentence. The re-trial has been beset by a number of delays, only kicking off on December 17.

 

Lebanese politicians in the March 14 coalition railed against Samaha’s release on Thursday, with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea saying it was “rejected by all means.”

 

Future Movement chief Saad Hariri, in turn, said the granting of bail was a “gift to a criminal,” while his party’s ministers in the current government lamented the Military Court of Cassation’s decision.

 

Protests also erupted in Sunni-populated areas of the country, as demonstrators blocked roads on Thursday night around Beirut’s densely-populated Tariq al-Jedideh quarter as well as in Tripoli and near Khaldeh on the highway leading form Lebanon’s capital to Sidon.

 

On Friday afternoon, residents of Tariq al-Jedideh once again briefly blocked roads at the Kola roundabout and Qasqas on the western and eastern edges of the neighborhood. 

Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad railed against opponents of Michel Samaha's release. (AFP/Ramzi Haidar)

There was no longer any legal justification for his detention to continue.