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What political future for Israel's last Lebanese detainee?

Latest update : 2008-07-21

Samir Qantar and four other Lebanese are expected to be freed from their Israeli jails on Wednesday. Considered a terrorist by Israelis and a hero by Lebanese, Qantar, the longest-serving Lebanese detainee in Israel, may have a future in politics.

The longest-serving Lebanese prisoner in Israel is expected to be released as part of a prisoner swap between Hezbollah and Israeli authorities.


In 1979, Qantar was sentenced for life for killing three people, including an Israeli policeman and a little girl in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya during a commando operation.

Qantar's expected release comes after long and difficult negotiations led by the Lebanese Shia movement. Many wonder whether the former leftist activist and fierce advocate of  secular society in Lebanon can start a political career.

For the last three decades, Qantar has been following the news in the Arab world from his prison cell. He regularly makes himself heard on the Lebanese landscape through letters addressed to his fellow countrymen and high-profile politicians.

In an interview done in Hebrew and published in the Israeli daily, Maariv on July 8, 2005, Qantar revealed that he had been given an offer through his lawyer to be a candidate in the 2002 parliamentary elections.  Qantar rejected the offer, refusing to “take advantage of his suffering to win a seat in Parliament.”

A resistance hero

In Lebanon, many consider it too early to discuss a possible political career while Qantar is still away from home.  But some already see him as an MP or as a leading opposition figure.  “As a resistance hero and a model of persistence, Qantar is destined to play a role on the political stage,” said Nazih Hamzé, Secretary General of the People’s Democratic Party, to which Qantar used to belong in his youth. The conditions of Qantar’s introduction to the Lebanese political stage, known for its complexity, still needs to be defined.

Although he is a Druze, Qantar owes his freedom to the Shia Hezbollah – not an easy position to be in when you want to compete in elections based on the religious makeup of each Lebanese region. According to Sayyed Franjieh, a Beirut-base political analyst, “it wouldn’t be surprising to see Qantar as a Druze candidate on the opposition list in the Baabda district.”  This district, located in the Mount Lebanon region,  has an important Shia and pro-Hezbollah electorate as well as numerous Christian supporters of General Michel Aoun, two pillars of the Lebanese opposition.

Sentenced to 542 years in jail

Born in 1962 in a Druze family from Mount Lebanon, Qantar joined the left-leaning People’s Democratic Party as a teenager before entering the ranks of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF).

He was captured the first time in January 1978 by Jordanian authorities while trying to cross the Jordanian-Israeli border with two other PLF members. He subsequently spent 11 months in a Jordanian prison until his release in December 1978.

In April 1979, he was caught by Israeli police while heading a commando known as “Operation Nasser.” He was only 16. He was sentenced by an Israeli court to five consecutive life terms and 47 years in prison – a total of 542 years behind bars for killing three Israelis, including two men and a little girl during the attack.


Date created : 2008-07-15