Israeli Prison To Be Closed
Apr. 13, 2000
JERUSALEM (AP) _ A notorious prison run by an Israeli-backed militia will be dismantled as part of an Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon this summer, Israeli officials said Thursday.
Human rights groups have said detainees are systematically tortured at Khiam Prison in south Lebanon. Some of the 150 prisoners held there will be transferred to Israel for interrogation, while others will be freed, said an official in the South Lebanon Army militia. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
SLA spokesman Raymond Abu Morad said talk about dismantling the facility was premature.
But Amir Abramovitz, an adviser to Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, confirmed that the prison would be closed, saying that after an Israeli troop withdrawal from Lebanon, the Lebanese government will have sovereignty in the area. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has pledged to pull his army out of Lebanon by July.
``In this framework, it is not possible for the SLA to hold a prison in southern Lebanon,'' Abramovitz said.
The London-based human rights group Amnesty International on Thursday called for the immediate release of all Khiam prisoners, many of whom have been held for years without charges or trials. Many are imprisoned on suspicion they planned attacks on Israel and its allies.
Khiam is in the Israeli-controlled part of south Lebanon. The area is patrolled by Israeli troops and SLA members who try to prevent cross-border attacks into Israel by Shiite Muslim Hezbollah guerrillas.
Israel has long denied any connection to the prison. However, last September Israel acknowledged for the first time that its agents help train the Lebanese militiamen at Khiam, and a court affidavit said the agents are involved in everything having to do with gathering of intelligence and questioning.
On Wednesday, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that Israel cannot hold Lebanese detainees unless it proves they pose a threat to security. In response to the ruling, the government agreed to free 13 of 15 Lebanese held for more than a decade as leverage in efforts to free a missing Israeli airman and to track down other missing soldiers who are presumed dead.
The ruling sparked controversy in Israel. On Thursday, the official responsible for government efforts to track the fate of government soldiers resigned his post. Yaakov Perry, a former spy chief, said he told Barak that the ruling made an already ``complex, difficult'' mission impossible.
The families of the missing Israelis asked the attorney general to order a wider Supreme Court hearing to reconsider its decision. Barring any appeal, the 13 Lebanese will be freed next week, a prisons services statement said.