Canadian should stand trial in Lebanon for seizing her children: judge

A Canadian woman who travelled to Lebanon to retrieve her children from her estranged husband should face child abduction charges, a Lebanese judge said Monday.

A Canadian woman who travelled to Lebanon to retrieve herchildren from her estranged husband should face child abduction charges, a Lebanese investigation judge decided Monday.

Despite the decision Monday, the whereabouts of Melissa Hawach, a Calgary residentoriginally from Saskatchewan, and her two young daughters are unknown, the CBC's Nahlah Ayed reports from Beirut.

The decision is still subject to a higher council,but the case is coming closer to a resolution, Ayed said.

Hawachwent to Beirut in December to try to recoup her children fromJoseph Hawach, an Australian-Lebanese. She alleged Joseph Hawach had taken thechildrenthere without her consent.

After becoming frustrated with the slow legal route, Hawach arranged to take her children back with the help of foreign ex-soldiers, two of whom remain in Lebanese custody.

An investigationbegan into possible charges of child abduction, and several in-camera hearings were held in January.

Lawyers involved in the case said the judge released his decision Monday, recommending that the case go to a formal trial.

But lawyers said the nature of the trial won't be determined until another ruling from a higher councilthat oversees investigation decisions.

The council must determine whether the charges should be considered a major crime or a misdemeanour.

That decision is key in determining which court, if any,will hear the case, and the length of sentence each of the accused faces if convicted.

Custody conflict

Melissa Hawach has custody of the children under Canadian law, but Joseph Hawach has custody under Lebanese law, his lawyer has said.

Joseph Hawach, who is believed to be in Lebanon, is wanted in Canada on allegations of removing the children from Canada illegally. Interpol has circulated a warrant for his arrest and extradition.

He took them to Australia ona holiday with her permission, but then took them to Lebanon without permission.

Melissa Hawach took her children back just before Christmas in a carefully plotted operation that involved four ex-soldiers from Australia and New Zealand.

Ever since, she has been in hiding with Hanna, 6, and Cedar, 3.

Two of theex-soldiers who helped her are in jail in Lebanon.