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Lebanon releases actor accused of collaborating with Israel


BEIRUT — A Lebanese stage actor was released on Tuesday and cleared of charges of collaborating with Israel and drug possession, while the officer who built the case against him was ordered detained.

Ziad Itani, a stage actor from a prominent Sunni family in Beirut who was arrested in November, told reporters after his release that his indictment was a "scandal" and responded affirmatively when he was asked if he had been tortured into confessing. Lebanon and Israel are formally at war and collaborating with Israel can be punishable by death.

"I am a theatre person, people! Why should I be accused of the worst crime ever?" he said.

Itani's arrest and subsequent exoneration were heavily covered by local media, amid a struggle among political rivals with links to the country's various and often competing security agencies. The case was withdrawn from one security agency and passed on to another after irregularities emerged earlier this month.

Lebanon will hold its first parliamentary elections in a decade later this year, pitting prominent Sunni families in Beirut against political rivals. A large poster near Itani's house showed a picture of him with a caption reading: "Beirut with you."

Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni, hugged Itani after his release from prison, airing their meeting on his official Twitter account.

The office of the chief military prosecutor released a statement Tuesday saying it had ordered the release of Itani. It didn't say why the security officer, Lt. Col. Suzan Hobeiche, the former head of the anti-cybercrime unit, had been arrested. Local media reported that Hobeiche had fabricated the case against Itani based on his public social media profile and contacts. Hobeiche has been held for interrogation for days.

The Associated Press

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