‘Complex’ deal to release Lebanese businessman after 4 years in Iran jail

Zakka arrived in Beirut on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 12 June 2019

‘Complex’ deal to release Lebanese businessman after 4 years in Iran jail

  • Beirut denies man’s freedom is linked to talks over two prisoners in US ‘important to Iran’

BEIRUT: The release of a Lebanese businessman on Tuesday after nearly four years in an Iranian prison may be linked to “complex” talks over two Lebanese prisoners being held in the US, analysts have told Arab News.

Nizar Zakka, an information technology specialist who holds US residency, was detained in Tehran in 2015. Iranian media described him as a US spy and he was sentenced to 10 years in jail and fined $4.2 million.

Zakka arrived in Beirut on Tuesday after Lebanon’s government secured his freedom. The circumstances of Zakka’s release were “complex,” Asaad Haidar, a Lebanese expert on Iran, told Arab News.

“This is a declaration of Iranian goodwill toward the Americans,” he said. “Zakka’s release is aimed at exchanging his freedom for the release of people who are being held by the US, including two Lebanese, Ali Kourani and Kassim Tajideen, who are important to Iran.”

Kourani, 34, a Lebanese American, is being prosecuted in a New York court on charges of supporting terrorism. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment.

BACKGROUND

• Nizar Zakka, an information technology specialist who holds US residency, was detained in Tehran in 2015.

• Iranian media described him as a US spy and he was sentenced to 10 years in jail and fined $4.2 million.

Tajideen, 63, a Lebanese businessman from the southern town of Hanaouay, built a global network of food and property companies with his brothers. He was accused by Washington of financing terrorism, and arrested in Morocco in March 2017.

“Tajideen is essential to Iran and they want to move reopen his case because no one has mentioned him since his arrest,” Haidar said.

“It is important to monitor the outcome of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s visit to Tehran on Wednesday, and his meeting with Iranian officials.  These are real negotiations whose results will emerge later.”

Nevertheless, officials in Lebanon and Zakka himself denied on Tuesday that his release was linked to a swap deal.

“This was an initiative that began and ended in Lebanon, a national job. The results were positive and stopped many actions that would have affected the region,” Zakka said.

Sources at the presidential palace told Arab News Zakka’s release was the result of “an intervention by President Michel Aoun with the Iranian authorities. 

“He … summoned the Iranian ambassador and asked him to refer his request to President Hassan Rouhani, and he responded positively. Everything said and written outside this context is absolutely unfounded.”

Zakka arrived in Beirut on a private jet, along with Lebanon’s national security chief, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim. 

“I do not make deals,” Ibrahim said. “But Tajideen is on my mind. I met him in prison in 2017 and this matter is not up.”


Palestinians allowed to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque

Updated 23 October 2020

Palestinians allowed to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque

  • Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, who had been barred for four months in June, was able to attend the Friday prayers
  • Palestinians from inside Israel were among those reaching Jerusalem for the weekly Friday prayers

AMMAN: An estimated 15,000 Palestinian worshippers flocked to Al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers, one month after the Israeli authorities banned entry due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Al-Aqsa’s preacher and the head of the Higher Islamic Committee, Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, who had been barred for four months in June, was able to attend the Friday prayers. He told Arab News that the situation was back to normal. “All gates were open today and the Israelis allowed worshipers access to the mosque,” he said. Sheikh Sabri had issued calls to Muslims who could attend Friday prayers.
Hijazi Risheq, the head of the Jerusalem merchants committee, told Arab News that for the first time in weeks Israeli soldiers allowed entry to Islam’s third holiest mosque.
He said: “No Israeli soldiers were seen at the entrance of Jerusalem’s old city, allowing free access to the walled city, but some Palestinian youth with West Bank ID were prevented access to the mosque.”
Palestinians from inside Israel were among those reaching Jerusalem for the weekly Friday prayers.
Risheq told Arab News that the past week had been difficult for the city’s business community.
“During last week we witnessed an unprecedented and nasty campaign by the Israeli occupation forces against the merchants and residents of the city of Jerusalem. Shopkeepers were fined exorbitant violations of 5,000 shekels ($1,500) and any clients at the shops were also fined 500 shekels.”
Rizeq said that there appeared to be miscommunication and contradictions in the orders and guidance by the Israeli forces — “all at the expense of the merchants and residents of the city.”
The prevention of entry to the old city was a combination of the Jewish holidays and the lockdown due to the coronavirus, Palestinians told Arab News.
The Jerusalem Waqf Council had issued a six-point guide to worshippers giving medical advice about social distancing and about bringing their own prayer rugs, and recommended that older Muslims stay away from Al-Aqsa for their own protection.
Miki Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli police, confirmed the prayers for Muslims. “The Temple Mout (Al-Aqsa) was open on Friday and the prayers took place in a regular and quiet manner,” he told Arab News.