Lebanon Issues Arrest Warrant for Al-Jazeera Journalist After Court No-Show

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lebanese prosecutors have issued an arrest warrant for Faisal al-Qassem, news presenter at Qatar-owned satellite channel Al-Jazeera, claiming that he insulted the army and promoted sectarian strife, a Lebanese judicial source said Wednesday.

Qassem, for his part, claimed on Facebook that the arrest warrant was provoked by an episode of his controversial show broadcast Tuesday night, which asked: "Why does the Lebanese army treat Syrian refugees fascistically?" since the warrant came one day after the episode was aired.

Qassem, host of "The Opposite Direction" talk show on Al-Jazeera, was referred to trial last September after he posted on his Twitter and Facebook accounts that the Lebanese army’s greatest achievements are filming music videos with Wael Kfoury, Najwa Karam, Elissa, and Haifa, and setting fire to Syrians’ refugee tents.

He failed to show up for the court hearing in Lebanon last October.

The Lebanese army said soldiers did not torch the Syrian settlement, but that three individuals attempted to set the camp on fire and were consequently arrested.

Army Commander General Jean Kahwaji said that army measures in Ersal aimed at protecting the town which was briefly occupied by militants who infiltrated the borders from Syria.

Lebanon’s population has grown by nearly 25 percent since the crisis in Syria began in 2011, with over 1.5 million Syrian refugees sheltered in a country with a population of 4 million, making it the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world.

Earlier this month, Lebanon began imposing unprecedented visa restrictions on Syrian refugees.

Citizens of both countries have been able to travel freely across their shared border since Lebanon gained independence in 1943.

The refugee influx has put huge pressure on the country's already scarce resources and poor infrastructure, education and health systems, and has also contributed to rising tensions in a nation vulnerable to security breaches and instability.

For months, Lebanon's government has sounded the alarm, warning the international community that it could no longer deal with the influx.

Restrictions on visas is the latest in a series of measures taken by Lebanon to stem the influx of Syrians fleeing their country's brutal war.

In October, Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said Lebanon was effectively no longer receiving Syrian refugees, with limited exceptions for "humanitarian reasons.”

In recent months, militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and al-Qaeda’s Syria branch, al-Nusra Front, have clashed with Lebanese troops on multiple occasions and have carried out suicide and car bomb attacks on different areas in Lebanon.

On Saturday, Nusra Front claimed responsibility for a double suicide attack on a cafe in the majority Alawi neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, claiming the lives of nine.

Last August, militants linked to ISIS and Nusra mounted an attack on the Lebanese border town of Ersal. They are still holding 25 members of the Lebanese security forces taken captive in that incursion, after they executed four others.

Three months after the fighting in Ersal, Lebanese troops fought deadly clashes in October with the Islamist militants, in the northern city of Tripoli. The fighting left 42 people dead, including 11 soldiers and eight civilians.

Since then, the army intensified its crackdown on suspected militants across north Lebanon, arresting hundreds in wide-scale raids.

(Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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