French Socialist detained by Hizbullah for over 4 hours

A French Socialist official attending a conference in Lebanon said Sunday he was detained for four hours by members of the Hizbullah group south of Beirut. Karim Pakzad said he had been touring the area considered to be a Hizbullah stronghold in a convertible car and taking pictures when he was detained Saturday along with a companion and interrogated for four hours before they were both released. Hizbullah said the two men were spotted near a Hizbullah official's residence in the suburb of Haret Hreik, "one of them taking a lot of pictures in a way that aroused suspicion." The group said in a statement that the two were treated with "respect" and released after ascertaining their identities. Hizbullah said it had information of Israeli plans to target its members in the area and carry out other sabotage acts. "This is what makes us weary of any suspicious movements," the group added. The French Foreign Ministry protested the arrest and detention of Pakzad, calling it "totally unacceptable." "We count on the diligence of Lebanese authorities, responsible for the investigation and judicial follow-up of this incident," a ministry statement said, adding that Pakzad has filed a formal complaint. Pakzad, representing the French Socialist Party, had been attending a two-day Socialist International conference in Beirut and said he wanted to see "different parts" of Lebanon at the end of the meeting. "We passed by a magnificent mosque ... and I took pictures of it," he said at a press conference. He described his detention as "a unique and painful experience" but said the "political consequences of the incident are much more important than something that concerns me personally." Following the incident he told police that he was on the road leading up to Beirut International Airport when a motorcyclist followed by an SUV stopped him and led him to an unknown location for questioning, a senior police official told The Associated Press on Sunday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official comments on the investigation. The area south of Beirut was ravaged by Israeli airstrikes during the 2006 war between Israel and the Syria and Iran-backed Hizbullah and has since become an attraction for some tourists and officials who come to inspect the damage and reconstruction. Hizbullah officials have in the past detained people taking pictures in the area on suspicion they could be Israeli agents posing as tourists. "This is really an abnormal situation," said Walid Jumblatt, an anti-Syrian politician who heads the Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party. Speaking at the press conference with Pakzad Sunday, he accused Hizbullah of being a state within a state. He said the French official had been taking pictures of Hizbullah posters on the way. "I don't think these are military installations," Jumblatt said. Hizbullah in its statement accused Jumblatt and his allies of "exploiting the incident" for political gains and planning it by sending off an international delegate to the area without a security escort or any kind of coordination with the group, knowing the sensitivity of the situation. Lebanon is split sharply between the anti-Syrian governing majority and the Hizbullah-led opposition. The country has been without president since November because of the political deadlock between the two sides.