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Lebanese journalist, activist arrested in crackdown on opposition

December 24, 1996

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Security forces detained a journalist and a human rights activist Tuesday in the Lebanese government’s crackdown on opposition groups.

More than 60 Lebanese Christians have been arrested since last week, when an armed attack on a bus of Syrian workers in Lebanon left one dead and seven injured. Most of those arrested support groups opposed to Syrian control of Lebanon.

Prosecutor-General Adnan Addoum said Tuesday that 10 people remained in detention and were being investigated for distributing anti-government statements and opening fire on the bus.

President Elias Hrawi suggested Monday that Israel was behind the recent attacks on Syrians, who have 40,000 troops deployed in Lebanon. About 1 million Syrian laborers work in Lebanon.

Lebanese leaders routinely blame Israel for attempts to destabilize the country and hinder its recovery from the devastating 1975-90 civil war. Israel has supported some Lebanese Christian forces who oppose Syrian hegemony in Lebanon.

Troops erected checkpoints across the Christian heartland north of Beirut, checking vehicle registration and motorists’ identification. At one checkpoint Monday night, troops took down names and license plate numbers and checked them against lists. Several young men, either without papers or on the wanted list, were hauled into an army truck, according to a witness who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals.

The wave of arrests drew criticism from opposition leaders and Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, spiritual head of the Maronite Church and an outspoken critic of government policy.

``What does it mean when some citizens are pursued every now and then to make them feel as if they are unwanted in their own country?″ Sfeir asked in his Christmas message Monday.

Army commander Gen. Emile Lahoud, in his first comment on the crackdown, defended his troops, saying the army was operating within the law and on instructions from justice authorities.

The leading independent An-Nahar newspaper reported Tuesday that an editor at the prestigious daily, Pierre Atallah, was among those arrested. Atallah is Christian.

The prosecutor-general said Atallah’s arrest was not related to his job.

The Foundation for Human and Humanitarian Rights, one of Lebanon’s major human rights organizations, said its executive director, Wael Kheir, had been arrested as well.

Atallah belongs to the foundation. The government gave no additional details on the arrests. It was not known if members of the group were being targeted.

An-Nahar said Tuesday that Atallah was taken from his home in the Christian neighborhood of Ashrafieh during the night without an arrest warrant.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Frontiers sent a letter to Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Tuesday seeking information on the arrest. The group’s secretary-general, Robert Menard, demanded that charges against Atallah be disclosed or that he be freed ``if the accusations against him were leveled because of his profession and political opinion.″

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