Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel reacted angrily Friday to the news that five former soldiers from its defunct militia ally, the South Lebanese Army, had been condemned to death in summary trials in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon.
Israeli lawmakers in Washington this week called attention to the plight of former SLA members, some of whom have reportedly been tortured. They also called for the US to use its influence to force Syria to withdraw the 35,000 troops it has stationed in Lebanon.
Israel's foreign missions abroad have been instructed to begin an information campaign calling for intervention in order to prevent "acts of revenge" by the Lebanese authorities against former SLA members.
Contrary to what Lebanese leaders told United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan and his envoy Terje Larson during their recent visits to the country, Lebanon had "delivered the death penalty and the longest jail terms on former members of the SLA in trials in Beirut," a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Israel redeployed its troops from south Lebanon in May, hastening the collapse of its disintegrating 25-year ally, the SLA. Disarming the SLA was a UN condition for monitoring the withdrawal.
News of the death sentences was not reported in the English-language Beirut newspaper, The Daily Star, on Friday.
The paper did report that another 65 Lebanese accused of collaborating with Israel were sentenced to between three weeks and 15 years in prison on Wednesday night "after another marathon court session."
Amnesty International recently criticized the summary trials of the former SLA militia members as "travesties of justice."
"Such summary trials, with barely seven minutes spent on each individual, neither allow the innocent to be acquitted nor ensure that those who may be guilty of war crimes will be discovered," the UK-based human rights group said in a statement.
"These trials also fail to provide the examination and understanding of the past and the human rights violations committed which would indeed pave the way for a reconciliation throughout society," it added.
Some 533 Lebanese have been sentenced so far in 12 sessions of military tribunal hearings, which began on June 5. According to The Daily Star, the harshest sentence was 22-and-a half years, handed down in absentia to a former SLA member.
Many of those convicted received only one-year sentences. However, they also were forbidden to return to their homes in the south for several years.
The World Lebanese Organization, a US-based group representing exiled Maronite Christians from south Lebanon, claimed several Christians had been tortured in prison in Beirut.
Gerges Shasek Eid, 72, was reported to have died in prison. Eid, who had a non-military job in the SLA, had fled to Israel but returned and surrendered to Lebanese authorities after he was assured that he would be well treated.
Lebanese judicial sources were quoted as vehemently denying that the former SLA member had died from a lack of proper medical attention as was reported in An-Nahar. The Arabic-language Lebanese daily quoted Eid's lawyer as saying that her client died when medication made in Israel was taken away from Eid.
Some 2,000 former militiamen surrendered to Lebanese authorities or were captured by the Muslim guerrilla organization, Hizballah, when Israel pulled its 1,500 troops out of the country after maintaining a presence there for much of the last two decades.
Another 6,400 primarily Christian south Lebanese fled to Israel when the SLA militia collapsed. More than 500 of them are scheduled to leave the country in the coming week for undisclosed destinations in Europe.
Israel this week began issuing identity cards to those who have chosen to stay. The ID cards will give them health insurance and the permission to work.
An Israeli lawmaker traveled to Washington this week to heighten awareness in Congress about the plight of the former SLA members and called on President Clinton to intervene personally on behalf of Israel's former allies.
Other Israeli opposition parliamentarians urged the US on Thursday to demand that Syria withdraw its 35,000 troops from Lebanon. A visiting Israeli delegation presented a letter to lawmakers in Washington, signed by 50 of Israel's 120 Knesset members, calling on the US to "act to pressure Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon."
Syria has been firmly entrenched in Lebanon since 1976 despite a UN resolution calling for all foreign powers to leave the country in 1982.
Damascus has never recognized Lebanon as a sovereign nation nor ever opened an embassy in Beirut. The late Syrian President Hafez Assad considered Lebanon - as well as Israel and Jordan - as part of "Greater Syria."