BEIRUT, Oct 28 (AFP) - Tearful Lebanese families
hunger strikes and other protests to mark a World Day calling for
the closure of the notorious Khiam jail in the Israeli-occupied zone
of southern Lebanon.
Some 200 relatives and friends of Lebanese detainees in
jails gathered in front of the United Nations headquarters here,
raising anti-Khiam banners.
Many protestors staged a seven-hour hunger strike, sitting
silently in two tents erected on the other side of the street in
solidarity with the detainees who allegedly suffer the worst kinds
of torture in Khiam.
"How can you sleep at night when you know that your young
is being tortured in a dark room?" cried a woman, as her neighbors
tried to calm her down and wipe the tears running down her face.
A group of mothers and sisters of detainees wept quietly
sidewalk while carrying pictures of their loved ones.
The Follow-Up Committee for the Support of the Lebanese
Detainees in the Israeli Prisons handed over to UN officials a
memorandum addressed to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
It called on him to intervene strongly "to release all
hostages in the Israeli prisons and to close down the Khiam
detention center forever."
"Although it has been there for more than 14 years, no
international investigation commission has been given access to the
camp so it will not discover the horrors committed behind its
walls," it said.
The committee said that 161 detainees, including women
teenagers, were currently being held hostage there without trial or
charge, some of them for more than 10 years.
"The main and only reason for their detention is because
refused to cooperate with the Israeli forces or to join" Israel's
proxy South Lebanon Army (SLA) militia, it said.
A total of about 2,000 Lebanese, including 500 women and
girls, have been held in Khiam since the former Lebanese army
barracks was converted into a prison by occupying Israeli troops in
The committee said 14 Lebanese have died from torture
run by the SLA under the guidance of Israeli army officers who carry
"The prisoners are subjected to electric shocks on their
fingers, toes, tongues or genitals. Nails or hair are sometimes
pulled out with pincers," it said.
"Disease is rampant in the camp because of the total absence
sanitary and medical care. Most of the detainees spend half of the
week in Marjayoun hospital and the other half in the camp," it
The jail is closed to journalists and human rights
organisations, many of which, including Amnesty International, have
repeatedly criticised conditions and the use of torture.
It was also closed to prisoners' relatives and to the
International Committee of the Red Cross until October 1995.
Striking among the many placards raised by the protestors
one showing detainee Ali Tawbe, who has been held in Khiam since
1997 when he was 14, next to a picture of Irishman Brian Keenan, who
was kidnapped in Beirut and held for three years during the
1975-1990 civil war.
"I wanted to say that just as the abduction of foreign
in Lebanon was wrong, it is wrong for the Israelis to hold Lebanese
hostages," said British national Linda Keen, who once taught with
Keenan at the American University of Beirut.
Some 42 other Lebanese are being held in jails inside
The Israeli high court said in February 1998 that 21 of them had
committed no crime but were being detained "in the vital interests
of the state" as tools for barter.
The solidarity day was to be marked by non-governmental
organisations in several other countries, including Canada, Japan,
Norway, and the United States, where there were to be demonstrations
outside Israeli embassies and consulates.
Candle-lit marches are scheduled for Beirut and Tel Aviv.