Lebanese MPs reject Syrian court’s summons of 2 deputies

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s parliament on Tuesday condemned Syrian judicial moves against two of its members, saying that the summonses against Walid Jumblatt and a Cabinet minister violated the Lebanese constitution.

In a highly unusual step, a Syrian military court issued an arrest warrant for Jumblatt last week and summoned for questioning Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh for making statements hostile to Syria. The two legislators have played a leading role in the campaign to eliminate Syrian influence in Lebanon.

In an equally rare move, the 128-member Lebanese legislature rebuked Syria on Tuesday, saying that its summonses “violated the Lebanese constitution and offended the dignity of parliament and the Lebanese people.” Such a motion would have been unthinkable until April last year, when Syria was forced to withdrew its troops from Lebanon, ending 29 years of control over the country, in the wake of the outcry over the killing of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

The parliamentary motion, read out by speaker Nabih Berri, said the military court’s actions against Jumblatt and Hamadeh were “rejected both in form and content.” Legislators voted in favour by a show of hands. The parliament has an anti-Syrian majority, but the ‘yes’ vote was strengthened by the faction of Gen. Michel Aoun, a Christian leader who has left the anti-Syrian alliance.

Lawmakers from two pro-Syrian, Shiite Muslim parties, Hizbollah and Amal, abstained.

The United States has condemned the summonses, with State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack calling them a case of Syrian “interference in the Lebanese political process.” Jumblatt has scoffed at his arrest warrant and is not expected to enter Syria.

The court appears to have taken stronger action against Jumblatt than Hamadeh because the political leader of the Druze community was quoted as encouraging the United States to invade Syria. When the Washington Post asked Jumblatt what he wanted from the United States in January, he reportedly replied: “You came to Iraq in the name of the majority. You can do the same thing in Syria.” A lawyer, Hossam Deen Habash, filed a complaint with the authorities about the remark, and a military court issued an arrest warrant on May 22.

Lebanon’s prosecutor general has received the summonses for Jumblatt and Hamadeh and a third Lebanese citizen, Fares Khashan, a journalist who is wanted for accusing Syria of responsibility for the assassination of Hariri and a string of later bombings that targeted anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon.

But the prosecutor general has not served the summonses on the three men.

Habash has said that if Jumblatt does not go to Syria, he may be tried in absentia.

Relations between Lebanon and Syria deteriorated sharply after the February 2005 killing of Hariri, who was seen as a quiet opponent of Syrian influence. Mass demonstrations in Lebanon and international pressure forced Syria to withdraw its troops. In the legislative elections of May and June, anti-Syrian candidates won a majority in the parliament for the first time in decades.

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