Court tells Israel to release 19 detainees

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Legal pressure is mounting on Israel's highest court to release 19 Lebanese held for years in jail under emergency laws without trial or charges.

Legal pressure is mounting on Israel's highest court to release 19 Lebanese held for years in jail under emergency laws without trial or charges.

A district court in Tel Aviv has ordered the Israeli government to free the men, whom it is using as leverage in efforts to secure the return of a missing air force navigator, whose jet crashed in Lebanon in 1986.

The Lebanese were captured by Israeli forces and Christian Phalangists, and transferred to Israel where they have been held without trial for up to 12 years. Ten of the men were initially convicted of being members of prohibited organisations but the Israeli authorities continued to hold them in prison after their sentences ended. They did so by placing them in "administrative detention", under which the prisoners can be detained by the government without charge. It is renewable indefinitely, through the courts, for periods of six months at a time.

Use of the detention law, which has been a pretext in the past to hold large numbers of Palestinians, has been repeatedly condemned by international human rights organisations. The Lebanese prisoners' lawyer, Zvi Rish, says they are, in effect, hostages.

This week's ruling by the Tel Aviv court is the second time it has ordered the men's release.

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