An Interior Ministry source confirmed Tuesday that caretaker Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk will review the General Security decision to allow Iranians to enter Lebanon at the airport without having their passports stamped “in the next 24 hours.”
Announced around a week ago, the move has sparked outcry from some politicians who fear it reflects the deepening influence of Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran.
The staunchly anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces described the change as an attempt to help Iran send more forces to Syria through Beirut or move money to Hezbollah despite U.S. sanctions.
General Security, which oversees airport security, has defended its decision and said that Iranians’ entry cards will be stamped instead.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA, reporting on the measure this week, said some Iranians who had traveled to Lebanon faced difficulty obtaining European visas.
The U.S. considers Hezbollah a terrorist group and has tightened sanctions against those accused of doing business with it. The European Union classifies Hezbollah’s military wing as terrorist. Tehran and Hezbollah provide critical support to the Syrian army in the 7-year-old conflict across the border.
Machnouk, returning from a trip abroad, will meet Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and other officials Wednesday to discuss the passport move and determine whether or not to nullify it, an Interior Ministry source told Reuters.
“A legal team at the ministry is currently studying ways” to nullify the decision without violating the law or surpassing the powers of the interior minister, The Daily Star’s ministry source said.
The law that regulates entry and exit to Lebanon dates back to 1970 and gives “the interior minister or the director of General Security during exceptional circumstances defined [by them, the power] to determine the type of document needed to enter or exit.”
The source argued that since the interior minister is higher in rank than the General Security chief, the latter should consult and obtain the approval of the minister before deciding anything related to the country’s borders and foreign policy.
“The [General Security] director cannot take exceptional decisions such as allowing a whole nation and people to be exempted from passport stamping [when entering Lebanon] without going back to the minister,” the source said.
General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim recently defended the measures, saying they were a “common and normal practice” that was not new and was being implemented by Lebanese security authorities for citizens of all nationalities, not only Iranians. He added that many European and Gulf countries refrain from stamping passports, and that introducing new technology at Beirut airport would eventually eliminate the need for stamps.
“Unfortunately, some in Lebanon have a wide imagination ... far from reality or any truth,” Ibrahim said Monday in an interview with local daily Al-Joumhouria. He explained that any traveler to Lebanon is automatically registered in a database, which is more important than the passport stamp.
The ministry source said such decisions cannot be taken “at an administrative level but rather should be addressed by the government.”
Former Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said the 1970 law that regulates travel into Lebanon also stipulates that stamping on an entry card is allowed “at the request of the person” involved.
“How can the minister revoke a decision which is stipulated in the law?” Charbel asked. “The minister has the authority to revoke a decision taken by a former minister, but a law can only be amended by another law.” He said the issue had “taken a political twist” despite being an administrative and legal matter.
A lawmaker with the LF said he believed the Interior Ministry would cancel the new measure. “This does not need discussion,” Wehbi Qatisha told Reuters. “A director-general made an administrative decision, when it should be a political one. It’s a mistake.” – With Reuters
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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