For the first time ever, Hezbollah official visits UAE to free Lebanese prisoners

For the first time ever, Hezbollah official visits UAE to free Lebanese prisoners
The visit of Wafiq Safa, a top Hezbollah official, marks the first time a representative from the group travels to the UAE on an official visit.
3 min read
20 March, 2024
Safa is trying to secure the release of six Lebanese detainees and the remains of a Lebanese national killed in detention last year. [Getty]

A top Hezbollah official, Wafiq Safa, visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Tuesday to try to secure the release of Lebanese detainees held in the UAE on suspicions of having ties to Hezbollah.

Safa, who is head of Hezbollah's liaison and coordination unit, is making the first official visit to the UAE by a Hezbollah representative.

The UAE has arrested Lebanese nationals, usually hailing from the south of Lebanon, on charges of allegedly working on behalf of Hezbollah.

Similar arrests have been made by Arab Gulf states which host large numbers of Lebanese expatriates and which view the Lebanese group as an extension of regional rival Iran.

Safa is trying to secure the release of six Lebanese citizens before the end of Ramadan, according to Abu Fadel Shoman, a spokesperson for the families of detained Lebanese in the UAE.

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All of the accused have denied the charges of ties to Hezbollah and money laundering against them.

Al-Shoman also asked that the Safa advocate for the release of the remains of Ghazi Ezzeldine, a Lebanese national who died in May 2023 while in detention in what rights groups say could possibly have been a result of torture.

Rights groups called for an independent investigation into the death of Ezzeldine.

"We knew that there were efforts occurring in the background for the detainees. The folder is not in the hands of the state, it started with Abbas Ibrahim and [Hezbollah] is completing these efforts," Shoman told The New Arab.

In 2021, former head of Lebanese General Security Abbas Ibrahim negotiated an agreement with the UAE to return a dozen detainees to Lebanon,

In addition to the unprecedented nature of Hezbollah's diplomatic contact with the UAE is the fact that the non-state group is negotiating in place of the Lebanese state for the release of its citizens.

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Bring him back

A family member of Ghazi Ezzeldine said that the family's requests to enlist the Lebanese Foreign Ministry's assistance to repatriate his remains have seemingly been fruitless.

The family member added that they suspected that the body of Ezzeldine could hold clues as to the circumstances of his death.

"They are afraid to give us the corpse because they know we will [perform an autopsy,]" the family member told TNA under the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution against their family members still in the UAE.

Some of Ezzeldine's relatives have prepared an empty gravesite for their relative, unconvinced that his body will ever be returned to them. But Ezzeldine's mother has persisted in asking to see her son's remains.

"Whenever she eats, whenever she drinks, his mother says, 'I want Ghazi, I want him here,'" the family member said.