A Lebanese businessman alleged Thursday that he and several hundred other Lebanese were expelled from the United Arab Emirates because they refused to spy on the Shiite militant group Hizbullah and other fellow citizens.
Hassan Alayan said more than 300 Lebanese - mostly Shiites - have been forced to leave the Emirates over the past three months. He said most of those deported said UAE authorities asked them to inform on fellow Lebanese Shiites living in the country and on Iranian-backed Hizbullah.
Authorities told the Lebanese they were being deported for security reasons, but they believe their refusal to spy was the real reason, Alayan told a news conference in Beirut. The Emirates refused to comment on the allegations, and Lebanese officials said they were contacting authorities there over the matter.
One of those deported, Zuhair Hamdan, said his residency permit was rejected after he refused to give authorities information about fellow Lebanese or possible Hizbullah sleeper cells in the UAE.
"I told them I have been living in the UAE for 33 years. How can I have information about Hizbullah," said Hamdan, who had lived in the Emirates since he was 2 years old and worked as a traffic policeman.
The UAE is among several predominantly Sunni Arab nations wary of Shiite Iran's growing regional clout, which Iran partly maintains by supplying weapons and cash to the powerful Hizbullah in Lebanon.
A statement by a committee set up to represent the deportees suggested the decision by the Emirates could be the result of US pressure to try to choke off routes of funding for the anti-American and anti-Israel Hizbullah. The US considers Hizbullah a terrorist organization.
The Emirates has cooperated with Washington in the past in trying to shut down networks smuggling weapons to Iran, US officials have said.
Alayan said some of those deported were forced to leave even after Lebanese President Michel Suleiman sent a military delegation five weeks ago to the UAE to try resolve the matter without success. More than 100 people who said they were deportees, as well as two Hizbullah legislators, attended the press conference in Beirut.
"In whose interest is it to ask Lebanese to spy on one another and on the resistance of Lebanon and Palestine?" said the committee's statement.
Alayan alleged UAE authorities have also deported Palestinians who refused to spy on the militant Hamas group, which rules the Gaza Strip. He said the Palestinians recounted similar pressures by authorities to inform on Hamas.
Some Arab media have reported that those who were deported were sending money to Hizbullah, a claim denied by Alayan and Ali Faour, another member of a committee representing the deportees.
Faour told reporters that most of those deported have been living in the UAE for decades and most were business owners.
Hizbullah, the largest and most powerful Shiite group in Lebanon, came to the defense of the deportees because most of them are Shiite. The deportees had been silent for a few months but last week started meeting with Lebanese officials to complain about their treatment.
Lebanon's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, urged UAE President Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan to take "a quick initiative to rescue hundreds of Lebanese families."
Hizbullah's deputy leader, Sheik Naim Kassem, described the deportations as "clear injustice" and called on the UAE to be fair with people who are not suspected of working against their host country.