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Ruling expected on April 20 in Lebanon child kidnapping case

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Lebanese judge is expected to rule on Wednesday in the case of an Australian woman and TV crew charged with kidnapping her children from their father in Beirut following a custody dispute.

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A judicial source said the case would likely be dismissed, with the father and mother reaching an out-of-court settlement that would result in the four-member television crew being fined and released. The children would remain with their father, the source said.

But a lawyer for the father suggested otherwise, saying there was no indication the case would be dropped.

The Australian “60 Minutes” television crew, the mother, two Lebanese and two Britons were charged with kidnapping on April 14 after the Lebanese authorities said they scuppered their attempt to take the woman’s two children back to Australia.

CCTV footage broadcast on Lebanese television appeared to show several people grabbing the children, who the father said were aged five and three, from their grandmother and bundling them into a car.

Australia’s Channel Nine television network said its crew was not connected to the people who grabbed the children, Australian media reported.

The mother was subsequently arrested and the children were returned to their father.

“We have faith that the Lebanese justice system will deal with this matter appropriately,” Channel Nine said in a statement. “The Lebanese people we are dealing with on the ground have been welcoming, professional and are treating our people on the ground, with consideration and respect.”

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the case had been adjourned for a couple of days after a hearing on Monday “to enable the parties and their lawyers to try to negotiate some solution and that would obviously be the best outcome in the interests of the children and interests of the parents”.

“We want to see all Australians detained brought home to Australia as soon as possible,” she said.

Lebanon, unlike Australia, is not a signatory of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which allows for children normally resident in one location to be returned if taken by a relative.

Reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut and Jane Wardell in Melanie Burton in Sydney; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky