In a move hailed as a positive step toward swapping Lebanese detainees for the remains of an Israeli soldier, two ailing men were freed yesterday from Khiam, including one who had been held for ten years.
Omar Ahmad, 39, and Shawki Nasrallah, 31, were released together with possessions they had at the time of arrest in Ahmad’s case a LL10 bill which ten years ago was worth $4, but is now out of circulation.
Hizbullah welcomed the release as a sign that the mediation of the International Committee for the Red Cross for the release of detainees is gathering momentum.
“I think this move is a positive step that will serve to quicken the swap. Hizbullah considers the exchange as one of its priorities and we are working on releasing as many detainees as possible,” said Tyre MP and member of Hizbullah’s Loyalty to the Resistance bloc Ahmad Qasir.
Qasir was speaking after visiting the two men who were transported by the ICRC from the Kfar Tebnite crossing point to Hammoud hospital in Sidon.
Ahmad suffers from kidney problems while Nasrallah has an illness linked to the brain.
The hospital swarmed with Ahmad’s relatives who stood in the hallway. One relative walked around the hospital offering sweets to patients and nurses. Ahmad’s uncle, Abdullah Nimr, wept as he rushed to hug his nephew.
“Your mother and brothers died while you were in prison,” he informed him.
Ahmad, pale and in pain, said that he was arrested in 1986 along with his wife and his seven-day-old son by South Lebanon Army soldiers.
“I was accused of offering shelter and food to resistance fighters. My wife and son were released a month later. I haven’t seen them since,” he said.
Ahmad’s wife and children are still in their village of Wazzali, Marjayoun. They were not able to visit Ahmad in the hospital because their village lies inside the occupation zone.
He described his life in detention. “When I was first arrested, I was placed in a 2.5 square metre cell along with 12 other detainees. There was no sun and no lavatory,” he said.
Ahmad said he continued to suffer until 1996 when the ICRC was allowed into Khiam.
“After that, we were allowed out to smell the fresh air and see the sun twice a week. We had a larger cell which had a lavatory and hot water,” he said.
Ahmad said that many detainees suffered from health problems. “At least seven detainees are transported to Marjayoun hospital each week,” he said.
Nasrallah, from Ainata, had been in detention for eight months. He said the SLA had accused him of contacting state security. “I don’t know why I was released. There are many others who have been in Khiam for a longer period,”
Dr Hammoud said that X-rays indicated there was water on Nasrallah’s brain, “probably as a result of a heavy blow”.
Nasrallah refused to give further information, saying that his family still lived inside the occupation zone and he did not want to risk endangering them.
About 120 Lebanese are still detained most of them without charges or trial in the Khiam detention centre, while another 52 are prisoners in other Israeli jails.