A French comedian has canceled his participation in a festival in Lebanon next month because of concerns for his safety after Hezbollah's TV station claimed he served in the Israeli army.
Al-Manar TV said Gad Elmaleh, who is of Moroccan-Jewish descent, was an avid supporter of Israel and showed a purported picture of him wearing an Israeli military uniform. The performer's agent denied the report's claims and said the photo was a fake.
Lebanon and Israel technically remain in a state of war, and it is illegal for Lebanese to have contacts with the Jewish State. Israel and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah fought a monthlong war in 2006 that killed around 1,200 people in Lebanon _ most of them civilians _ and 160 in Israel.
Elmaleh, known for his one-man comic acts, had been due to give three performances on July 13-15 at the annual Beiteddine cultural festival in the central Chouf mountains east of the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
A statement from Elmaleh's agent, Gilbert Coullier, denounced the "false information" in Al-Manar's report. The statement, posted on the Beiteddine festival's Web site Monday, said Elmaleh was canceling his participation in the festival because of the "aggressive" nature of the report and out of concern for his safety.
The organizing committee of the Beiteddine Festival said on its Web site that it regretted what it also called a false report.
"As for the artist being Jewish, we are not aware that this religion constitutes a barrier for anyone to take part in activities like any other citizen," it said.
"The campaign led by Hezbollah against (Elmaleh's) travel to Lebanon under the pretext of supporting Israel is racist and an unacceptable mixing between politics, culture and religion," Christian lawmaker Sami Gemayel said in a statement published in Lebanese newspapers Monday.
A local human rights group said the campaign against Elmaleh "harms the image of Lebanon and its cultural richness."
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