Sunday, October 30, 2005 

American forces in Iraq invade Syria

American forces in Iraq have launched deadly raids across the border into Syria killing at least two Syrian border guards, according to the Commander in charge of the Syrian side of the border.

The claim comes days after leaks in Washington that US forces have started secret operations in Syria aimed at killing 'jihadists' before they get into Iraq. Apparently, the only deaths so far seem to be those charged with protecting that border.

"Sometimes the US soldiers fire at us every day," said Ibrahim Brahim, a Syrian security official. "Sometimes it's simply a mistake, but sometimes it's not. Mostly the US army wants to show us its power."

Below: a Syrian border guard looks into Iraq

Thursday, October 27, 2005 

Sa'ad Al-Hariri rejects sanctions against Syria

Sa'ad Al-Hariri says he is opposed to sanctions being imposed on Syria for the murder of his father Rafiq Al-Hariri.

It will add to the growing crucendo of voices against the threat of sanctions: yesterday Russia and the Arab League spoke out in the strongest terms against sanctions.

And now, possibly the most morally powerful voice has condemned the US-UK-France plan to threaten Syria.

"I am not in favour of sanctions against Syria," Saad Hariri said, "We are friends of the people of Syria. Lebanon and Syria have had a very long historic friendship and we'd like to keep it this way."

He said he was happy with the way the investigation was going.


Lebanon arrests two more Hariri suspects

Lebanon has arrested two more Islamists, friends of Mahmud Abdul-Al, who was arrested on Saturday.

At the weekend it was announced that Syria has also arrested Abdul-Al's right-hand-man.

The Islamists involved are all thought to be Sunni fundamentalists.


Syria promises 57,000 new jobs

The Syrian government has agreed to spend 9 billion US Dollars on government investment.

That'll produce 57,000 new government jobs.


US Ambassador Bolton attempts to destroy US-Syria relationship

Controversial US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, says Mehlis must be able to interrogate Bashar Al-Assad.

There is no suggestion that Bashar had any involvement in the murder, but Bolton's statement was probably intended as provocation rather than a useful contribution.

The US Senate refused to nominate Bolton for his position as Ambassador, and Bush had to appoint him personally. Bolton suggested a few years ago that if the top ten floors of the UN were destroyed, no-one would be afffected.


Arab League calls sanctions 'illegal'

The Arab League has called any sanctions on Syria 'illegal' because of an 'incomplete' probe. It comes on the same day that Russia said that it would do everything in its power - including using its Security Council veto - to block sanctions.

The Arab League pointed to Mehlis's own report, which said that the investigation is far from over.

And they supported Syria's statements yesterday which said that any Syrian found guilty of involvement in the Hariri murder will be tried in a Syrian or international court.


UN Report on 1559

Terje Roed-Larsen has reported on Syria and Lebanon complying with last year's Security Council Resolution which forced Syrian troops out.

On the withdrawal of Syrian troops, and holding free and fair elections:
"The requirements of the withdrawal of Syrian troops and military assets, as well as the conduct of free and credible legislative elections have been met."

"Complications have unfortunately arisen from the lack of a clearly agreed upon and demarcated border between Lebanon and Syria, and have highlighted the need for a formal border agreement and demarcation of that border."

"There have also been difficulties related to the control of the borderline between Lebanon and Syria, and the issue of the illegal transfer of arms and people toward armed Palestinian groups in Lebanon, which has threatened to cast a shadow on the efforts aimed at bolstering Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence."

"Terror, in the form of bombings, assassinations, and attempted murders ... has not succeeded in destabilizing Lebanon, jeopardizing the holding of free and credible parliamentary elections, or undermining its national unity nor political independence."

On the Shebaa farms:
"Both the (Security) Council and I have repeatedly stated ... that the Shebaa Farms area is not part of Lebanon. Therefore, any
Lebanese 'resistance' to 'liberate' the area from continued Israeli occupation cannot be considered legitimate."

"In addition even if the Lebanese claim to the Shebaa Frams area were legitimate, it would be the responsibility of the government of Lebanon only to address this claim in conformity with international law and relevant Security Council resolutions."

On the armed groups:
"The existence of armed groups defying the control of the legitimate government which by definition is vested with a monopoly on the use of force throughout its territory, is incompatible with the restoration and full respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of the country."

"I am encouraged by my dialogue with the government of Lebanon on the extension of its control over all of Lebanon's territory. Tangible results are yet to be achieved,. and I will continue my efforts in this regard."

"I am encouraged by the design of a formal mechanism of internal dialogue on the issue of the arms of Palestinian militias in
Lebanon, and the recent historic summit between (Lebanese) Prime Minister (Fuad) Siniora and (Palestinian) President (Mahmud) Abbas.

"I look forward to the formalization of the ongoing domestic
dialogue on the issue of the arms of Lebanese militias and their


UN warns Syria over arms smugglers at Syria-Lebanon border

Syria's border with Lebanon is too open, according to Kofi Annan.

Syria's being blamed for the flow of guns into Palestinian camps in Lebanon which has fuelled the recent gun-violence. The news comes just months after the UN blamed Syria for closing the border.

But Syria has admitted there is a problem: The government of Syria has informed me that the smuggling of arms and people across the Syrian-Lebanese border does indeed take place, albeit in both directions," Annan said, referring to the cache of weapons found in Damascus and other places at terrorist safe-houses, run by Jund Ash-Sham.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, has responded to Kofi Annan, saying that it will do its bit to protect the border. they say they've caught a number of Palestinians with Syrian identity cards - it's not clear what Lebanon has done to those men.

Annan made the statements after a report on the fulfilment of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 - which called for Syrian troops to leave Lebanon. He said that although the Resolution had been complied with by Syria, the Lebanese government has not fully extended its authority to the South - referring to the power of Hizbollah along the Israeli border. He also criticised Hizbollah's armed status, as well as the weapons still remaining in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese army encircled military bases run by Palestinian fighters. They've set up checkpoints at Sultan Yacoub, where Palestinians have dug into the hills of the Bekka Valley right through the border into Syria to evade the Syrian and Lebanese border police.


Syria to meet Israel

Syria and Lebanon will hold talks with Israel tomorrow.

The Euro-Mediterranean Summit is one of the few places where Syria and Israel talk - it was in a similar summit that Barak and Hafez Al-Assad came close to signing a peace treaty in return for the Golan Heights five years ago.

Heads of State, or government members from all 25 EU members, plus 10 other countries will be present.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 

Russia will block any UN sanctions on Syria

Russia, one of the veto members of the UN Security Council says it will block any move to put sanctions on Syria.

Russia has long been one of Syria's closest allies: the USSR was it's biggest trade and arms partner for decades. Now, after much speculation, Russia has come out and said it will formally veto any move to sanction Syria.

"Russia will be doing everything necessary to prevent attempts to impose sanctions against Syria," the Russian Foreign Minister said today - in Israel!


LIVE: Syria UN resolution: arrest suspects

A draft UN resolution being pushed by the US and France calls on Syria to arrest anyone named by Mehlis as a suspect in the murder of Hariri.

It comes on the day that it was revealed that Syria has jailed one of the people named in the Mehlis report.

Anyone implicated would face a travel ban and assets freeze.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005 

Syria arrests man named in Mehlis report

Syria has been holding a key suspect in the Hariri case for the past two months, it emerged today.

Ziad Ramadan is the best friend of an Islamist implicated in the murder by the Mehlis investigation.

Both Ramadan and Ahmed Abu Adass were named in the Mehlis report - Adass made a videotaped confession on the day of Hariri's murder.


Mehlis under fire

The Mehlis investigation team says it received 'numerous threats' in Lebanon.


Syria accepts international trial

Syria's eloquent ambassador to the US, Imad Moustafa has said that any Syrian implicated in the Hariri murder is guilty of "high treason, and will be tried by Syrian court or an international court."

That comes after speculation that the language used in Syria's statement to the UN was a rejection of an international trial.


LIVE: Syria at the UN

"Syria is ready to put to trial any Syrian implicated conclusively in connection with this crime." Syria's Ambassador to the UN, speaking to the Security Council - LIVE NOW.

Monday, October 24, 2005 

Massive demonstration in Damascus

Damascus has seen one of its biggest demonstrations for years.

Thousands protested, with many gathering at Sa'hat Al-Umawayeen. They chanted Syria is innocent, and Syria is not a murderer. Some of the slogans were directed at the Arab silence, telling Syria's Arab brothers, watch out, they'll be after you next.

Many of the demonstrators were students who had been given the day off by teachers.

A UN Security Council meeting has been called for next Monday.

Sunday, October 23, 2005 

Jund Ash-Sham strikes in Lebanon

The terror group that has been plaguing Syria for months has made its first hit in Lebanon.

Jund Ash-Sham fought with a Nasserist group outside a Palestinian refugee camp, Ayn Al-Helwa. 4 people are injured, one is in a critical condition. None of the fighters are thought to be Palestinian.

The fight once again highlights the hypocricy in Lebanon where guns are only allowed in the Palestinian camps.


UN extends Mehlis investigation

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has extended Detlev Mehlis's mandate in Lebanon.

It comes after Mehlis stated that the investigation was far from complete.

Annan rejected US calls earlier in the week for an extension of the probe, saying he did not want to see it politicised.

Sa'ad Al-Hariri has welcomed the extension.


Sa'ad Al-Hariri calls for International trial

The son of murdered ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri has called for his killers to face an international trial.

He made the announcement on television, even though UN investigator Detlev Mehlis failed to name anyone as a suspect in the murder.

Sa'ad said "we are not seeking revenge, we are seeking justice."

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmed Arnus hit back at the US who have called for action against the country, saying the report "puts Syria in the dock and vilifies it without evidence." The Mehlis report was based almost entirely on witness and 'commentator' statements, such as the controversial anti-Syrian editor of the An-Nahar newspaper, Jubran Tuewani.

Meanwhile, Sa'ad has called for renewed ties with Damascus, which he called a 'brotherly nation'.

Friday, October 21, 2005 

Washington Post reveals uncensored Mehlis report

The Washington Post has unintentionally posted the uncensored version of the Mehlis report.

It has now replaced it with the official version.

The changes were made just hours before publication to protect the identity of the people mentioned.

But As'ad Abu Khalil discovered another difference between the two versions. In the original, Mehlis condemns the Lebanese media for spreading rumours and speculation about the Hariri assasination. Mehlis believed that the continuous anti-Syria accusations would prejudice a fair investigation.


Syrian and Lebanese governments reject Mehlis report

The Syrian and Lebanese governments have both rejected the Mehlis report.

Syria's Information Minister Mehdi Dakhlallah said: "It is a political statement against Syria that is based on a set of stories by some witnesses who are known for their anti-Syria positions, including media and political figures."

The Mehlis report complied the evidence of a series of witnesses, most based in Lebanon and a handful in Syria.


Mehlis removes names from report

Detlev Mehlis removed five Syrian names from his report just before it was published.

He said he wanted to protect their innocence. Sources claim those names include Maher Assad (the President's brother) and Asef Showkat (the President's brother in law).

The names appeared in a section of the report where a witness describes who he thinks was involved.

There has not been any suggestion at any stage during the inquiry that Bashar himself is implicated.


US calls Mehlis report 'deeply disturbing'

The US has demanded that the UN Security Council take urgent action to punish Syria after the 'deeply disturbing' Mehlis report.

They're expected to call for sanctions. Condoleezza Rice said the UN should "seriously consider how it demands accountability." While Bush said "today, a serious report came out that requires the world to look at it very carefully and respond accordingly."

Mehlis will brief the Security Council on Tuesday.


Mehlis report available online

This is the full report, in English.


URGENT: Mehlis report does not name Syrian officials

Detlev Mehlis, the UN investigator, has not named any Syrian officials for the murder of Rafiq Al-Hariri.

But he did blame 'Syrian and Lebanese elements'.

He said the act "could not have been taken without the approval of a top-ranked Syrian security official and could not have been further organised without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services".

Worryingly, he accused the Syrian government of trying to mislead the investigation. He says Foreign Minister Farouq Ash-Sharaa lied in a letter to the investigation.

But no Syrian official has been implicated - the worry was that a figure close to the President would be blamed, implicating the President. Mehlis found no evidence that Bashar or any of his inner circle were to blame.

But the report will provide ample ammunition to those who want to cripple Syria with sanctions.

One commentator said, Mehlis didn't please anyone.

Mehlis has now turned the investigation over to Lebanese officials. He did not call for a renewal of his mandate, but said a lot of work still needs to be done.

Thursday, October 20, 2005 

Army on the streets of Lebanon

The Lebanese Army has been sent out on to the streets of Beirut, Tripoli and other cities. The situation has been described as an 'unofficial state of emergency'.

Widescale protests, and even riots are feared when the Mehlis report into Hariri's death is published tomorrow.

The report has been finished, and the first copies have already been printed. A copy is already in the hands of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The report is the most important event for the Levant since the end of Lebanon's Civil War - depending on what it says, the Mehlis report could change the region's future.


Lebanese Prime Minister says Palestinian weapons ok

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora has signaled that it’s alright for Palestinians to carry arms – as long as they keep them in the refugee camps.

It reinforces an unspoken agreement dating from the Civil War, but is bound to raises new questions about the Lebanese-Palestinian relationship in the country.

It’s alright for Palestinians in the camps to be at risk from shooting, but not Lebanese.

In the past few weeks the Lebanese police and army have been strengthening their patrols outside the camps, and enforcing the checkpoints scanning everyone’s movements. Since the Civil War, Lebanese authorities have not entered the huge camps, which are still ruled by local mafia groups.

PM Siniora has also met Palestinian leaders from the PLO, and rejectionist groups in a bid to keep arms within the walls of the camps. Some groups have complained that the Lebanese army is imposing a blockade of the camps.

UN Resolution 1559 demands that all Lebanese militia give up their arms – including groups inside the camps.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005 

Siniora calls for embassies, border with Syria

Fuad Siniora has crossed a Syrian-Lebanese red line by asking for embassies in Beirut and Damascus, and formal demarcation of the border for the first time since Lebanon's creation.

Bashar Al-Assad called for something similar during the troop withdrawal, but it has not happened until now.

In another development, a former Syrian Intelligence agent, who fled to Paris has been arrested by French police for lying to the UN investigation. It's not clear whether he is the same man who said Syria has purchased the explosives used in the Hariri murder.

Sunday, October 16, 2005 

6 days until the verdict

Detlev Mehlis will finally publish his report into the murder of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Al-Hariri this Friday.

The streets of Damascus will echo with the sounds of radio news this Friday.

I remember walking through Souq Al-Jumaa on the first day after the start of the Iraq War. Damascus was visibly tense. Taxis stopped playing their music, shops re-tuned their radios. This Friday will be another Friday 21 March 2003.

Wondering whether war was about to spread into Syria, wondering whether the normality and banality of life was about to end.

Souq Al-Jumaa has never felt the same since.

Saturday, October 15, 2005 

Syria inquiry calls Kanaan death suicide

Ghazi Kanaan, Syria's Interior Minister who was found dead in his office on Wednesday committed suicide, an official inquiry has found.

It will do little to reassure those who believe he was killed by those using him as a scapegoat for the Hariri murder. Denis Ross, former US negotiator says Kanaan's death was murder, not suicide.


Bush offers Bashar the 'Gaddafi Deal'

George Bush has offered to bring Bashar in from the cold, after two years of isolation, if he meets four key demands, according to senior American and Syrian sources.

His demands are:
1 - hand over any suspects named in the UN Hariri investigation to an international trial
2 - cease all 'interference' in Lebanese affairs
3 - end funding, training and support for Iraq's insurgents
4 - end support for Hamas, Hizbollah and Jihad

In return America would resume full and friendly relations, re-open its Embassy, end its threats, and provide international investement and aid. The US would also lift all sanctions, allowing American companies to do business in Syria.

Although the demands are not new, it is the first carrot Bush has offered Syria since his hate campaign begun in 2003.

Syrian sources predicted Bashar will turn down the deal, because the old-guard will view the Hariri and Hizbollah demands as a step too far.

But the mere fact that the two new enemies are talking again is a positive step. Bashar confirmed that the US and Syria had resumed negotiations through intermediaries (thought to be Saudi and Egypt). Co-operation ended earlier this year when the US pulled out its Ambassador from Damascus, and Syria ended its intelligence sharing with Washington.

Most importantly, the offer demonstrates is that Bush does not have the willingness or ability for another Arab invasion during the rest of his presidency.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005 

Syria's Interior Minister, Ghazi Kanaan, commits suicide

Ghazi Kanaan killed himself this morning.

Here's the official statement: "Interior Minister Brig Gen Ghazi Kanaan committed suicide in his office before noon".

Hours earlier he contacted a Lebanese radio station 'The Vocie of Lebanon', to make a final statement. He said: "I want to make clear that our relation with our brothers in Lebanon was based on love and mutual respect... We have served Lebanon's interest with honour and honesty".

He was questioned last month by UN investigators into his role in the murder of Rafiq Al-Hariri. The investigators were invited into Damascus, and allowed to interview Kanaan - it's not clear how much Kanaan himself was willing to be interviewed.

Kanaan controlled Lebanon on behalf of Syria for decades. His suicide comes less than two weeks before the UN report into the Hariri murder is published. Syria was widely expected to present Kanaan to an international tribunal if he was implicated.

Sunday, October 09, 2005 

Beirut airport closed

Beirut airport has been closed after workers walked out.

104 flights were cancelled and thousands of passengers were affected. Air traffic controllers are complaining that their overtime has not been paid since 2001. They also want a reduction in their working hours – they currently work nearly double the legal limit and earn just $400 a month..

It is the only international gateway in to the country, used by thousands of businessmen and tourists every day. It is bound to add to the country’s economic woes, which is still trying to rebuild its reputation as a tourist destination and banking center, after the trauma of the Hariri killing and demonstrations.

Friday, October 07, 2005 

Bush will give Sharon the green light for a wide-scale attack on Lebanon

1982 all over again?

European diplomatic sources in Israel have said that Washington will not interfere if Sharon attacks - or even carries out a full scale invasion of - Lebanon.

The sources said that Sharon might delve deep into Lebanon if Hizbollah attacks Israeli occupying forces in Lebanon's Shebaa Farms.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 

An-Nahar: Syria wasn't involved in the Hariri murder

The right wing Lebanese daily newspaper An-Nahar has published extracts of a report implying that Syria had nothing to do with the Hariri killing.

The quoted a "well informed" Syrian source. the source said that "Detlev Mehlis has informed Premier Fu'ad al-Sanyurah of a major part of the outcome of his investigations ... Al-Sanyurah will soon be aware that Syria has no connection whatsoever to the crime".

It comes just days after Syrian announced that it was 'satisfied' with Mehlis's inquiries.

Will October 25th not bring that smoking gun that Bush is waiting for?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005 

Lebanese police crack down on Palestinian Refugee Camps

For many years the scapegoats of Lebanese society, the Palestinians are once again in the firing line.

Since the civil war, police have feared entering the camps, maintaining a presence only at the gates. But now the Army have placed observation posts around the Al-Na'mah camp, and the camps of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) in the Bekka Valley.

The Army said that they seized weapons and issued arrest warrants against some Palestinians.

Meanwhile PFLP-GC leader Ahmad Jibril issued an 'urgent warning' for all members to be on 'full alert' and ready for mobilisation at any time.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005 

Hariri trial to take place outside Lebanon

Detlev Mehlis, the UN investigator in Lebanon, has reportedly recommended that the trial into the murder of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Al-Hariri should take place outside the country.

He wants to see a Lebanese court sitting outside Lebanon - just like the Lockerbie trial, where Scottish judges sat in a court in The Hague.

He wants to ensure that the defendants will see the trial as fair - rather than a domestic witch hunt against a rival group. And that witnesses can feel safe.

He'll also be concerned about the recent political insecurity - on Saturday there was a murder attempt on a judge in Northern Lebanon.

Monday, October 03, 2005 

Talabani: Syria has my full support

Iraq's President, Jalal Talabani has thrown his weight behind Syria in the face of increasing US hostility towards Iraq's neighbour. His announcement is sure to anger US officials.

"I frankly said on many occasions that we should be grateful to Syria," he said in an interview with Ash-Sharqiyah.

"When we were in the opposition, there was a time when Syria was the only country that gave us refuge. It offered us assistance as much as it can in terms of funds, weapons, media, and asylum. Therefore, it is not logical to express our gratitude by attacking it.

"All the Americans were sceptical about this. They came down hard on Syria. I told President Bush when I met with him for 15 minutes: I told
him what alternative do you have for Syria? The alternative cannot be like what took place in Iraq. Therefore, you must think twice. He said: We do not want to topple the regime or change the regime. We just want to change the course of action of the regime but we do not accept that US soldiers continue to be killed by terrorists coming from Syria. This
is unacceptable."

"There are disagreements between us, and we have some remarks but all this should remain confined within the framework of bilateral relations. Do not try because you will not get one word from me against

Talabani also said that he does not support Kurdish independence:

"Imagine than once we proclaim independence, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria will not go to war against us but will close their borders. How will I go back? What about exports and imports? Also, our real interest is in remaining within a federal Iraq."

Sunday, October 02, 2005 

Mehlis investigation will not accuse Syria directly

A German newspaper, the Zu Deutsche Zeitung says that the Detlev Mehlis investigation into the murderof Rafiq Al-Hariri will let Bashar Al-Assad off the hook.

According to the paper, no Syrianwill be implicated. Allof the blame will rest on the shoulders of the four Lebanese officials arrested last month.

It comes amid mounting leaks that the Mehlis investigation will not reward Bush with the golden bullet he is looking for.

Also today, it was revealed that the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) movement is to be expelled from Damascus - they are set to move to Gaza. That has been a key demand of the Bush administration.


La Vache qui Rit factory to open in Syria

The French Bel company - manufacturers of the Laughing Cow cheese have announced they'll open a 13 million euro factory in Syria.

It's the first direct foreign investment in Syria - and will come as a relief given the recent harsh words eminating from France.

Syria was recently on the verge of signing the Syria-EU Association Agreement which would open up trade with Europe in the face of new sanctions from the US.

Saturday, October 01, 2005 

Nibras Kazimi: Who Killed Hariri?

Excellent analysis of who might have killed Hariri.

"The Mehlis investigation could be barking up the wrong tree."

Was it Syria. Syria and its allies. Hizbollah even?

He concludes that it might just be Islamists trying to finger Syria...

Who Killed Hariri?
Nibras Kazimi on a Lebanese murder mystery
The New York Sun

In February, a couple of weeks after Rafiq Hariri’s assassination in Beirut, I pegged the blame for the murder on the Syrian leadership, who I claimed had acted through their acolytes, Hezbollah. My reasoning at the time was that the Syrians had the motive and the means, and that the only terrorist team that could pull off such a delicate operation was the one headed by the Lebanese terrorist Imad Mughniyeh.

A couple of months later, while visiting Lebanon, I surveyed the site of the blast and changed my mind: the bombing that killed Hariri along the waterfront was too big and too flashy and thus did not bear Mughniyeh’s signature. Would the Syrians do such a thing on their own? Unlikely; too high a risk of being caught. No, this job was done by a Lebanese network, but which one if not Mughniyah’s “A-Team”? The likely suspects were the Syrian loyalists in charge of the Lebanese security apparatus.

Yes, blaming the heads of the Lebanese security apparatus seemed the rational thing to do, and a little too easy. At the top of the list was the much-feared director of General Security, General Jamil Al-Sayyid. I went to visit him in May at his home, but was much disappointed: instead of finding a nefarious and evil spymaster, I found a vain and very proper military officer. Al-Sayyid seemed genuinely stung by the accusation that drove him to volunteer his resignation after decades of service to the Lebanese state. He had an “I’ll show them” attitude that involved setting-up his own think-tank and publishing a liberal newspaper: he would launch a political career and avenge his sullied name and track record. He did not strike me as a man that would be smartly sinister enough, or gullibly dumb enough, to be involved in the Hariri murder.

Since resigning, Al-Sayyid had managed to regain some respectability through a long interview that was serialized over several days in a leading Arabic newspaper. He was even seen about town dining with the American ambassador at an Italian restaurant in downtown Beirut.

But Al-Sayyid, along with three other top officers, was arrested last month by the Lebanese authorities on the recommendation of the German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who is running the United Nations-mandated investigation into the assassination. Mehlis is supposed to hand in his final report by Oct. 25. A lot is riding on Mr. Mehlis, including the culpability of the Syrian regime in ex-Prime Minister Hariri’s murder. His report could amount to a casus belli against the Assad dynasty by the international community. The only problem is that I think that Mr. Mehlis has very little by way of a smoking gun, but rather can only establish motive and some circumstantial evidence.

There was talk of a defector, who in the first account leaked by Saudi intelligence was supposed to be Major Zuheir S., a Syrian intelligence officer with direct oversight of activities in Lebanon.The Saudis had helped him defect and then took him to Paris (where he was debriefed by the French and then Mr. Mehlis) and to Cairo (where the Egyptian spooks figured out that he was lying) and then to Spain (where he met Rifa’at Assad, an exiled claimant to the throne of his nephew, Bashar, and a chum of the Saudis).

The Syrians countered by leaking a brief biography of Zuheir Siddique, who turns out to be in their account a colorful con man with seven wives and a checkered career in the annals of fraud all over Syria and Lebanon. He had somehow snookered the Saudis, the French and Mr. Mehlis into believing that he was credible and could prove Syrian blameworthiness. Sources keep telling me that this guy was Mr. Mehlis’s trump card and that the Syrians had found it easy to discredit his testimony. Other information that Mr. Mehlis had acted on and that found its way into the Lebanese press is also turning out to be wrong.

One theory talks about a cover-up at the scene of the crime, but making that work would require the Lebanese bureaucracy to be more efficient than it is. The supposed coverup could be explained away as fumbling rather than malice. Moreover, the four top suspects — who headed four rival security and military branches — loathe each other, and it is very hard to envision them working together to kill Hariri.

Even the handling of the investigation by Mehlis seems sloppy and is “operating on ad hoc law” that is in contravention of what the U.N. set down in its related resolution and would not hold up in court, according to Al-Sayyid’s lawyer, Akram Azzouri, speaking in a telephone interview on Monday.

Accepting Mr. Mehlis’s thesis would make one hesitant to entertain yet another suspect entity: a Sunni fundamentalist group with the “previously unknown” tag. Sunni fanatics in carefree Beirut? The mental image just does not seem to fit, but I am slowly getting used to it. Omar Bakri, the militant fundamentalist who was recently kicked out of Britain after spending 20 years there and heralding the day when the Islamic flag shall flutter triumphantly over 10 Downing Street, is now beseeching his followers to join him in Beirut. An appendage of Zarqawi’s organization in Iraq is branching out under the name of Jund al-Sham into both Syria and the northern Lebanese town of Trablous. Shia-Sunni tensions across Lebanon are also surfacing and creating a political atmosphere that harks back to the civil war days.

The Syrian regime is nasty and horrible: they are a relic of a defunct Ba’athist totalitarian ideology that rules through vicious sectarian domination. There are plenty of reasons for undermining and overthrowing them, but on the current evidence, Hariri’s murder should not be one of these reasons. Given what I know after following this story for a while, I am less certain today that they or their acolytes — whether Hizbullah or Al-Sayyid — are indeed guilty of this particular foul deed.

The Mehlis investigation could be barking up the wrong tree, and this would have immense repercussions. There seems to be a frenzy of wishful thinking in Washington and Beirut that Herr Sherlock Holmes would nobly and irrefutably expose just how evil the Syrians really are, but everyone may be in for a major disappointment. The Egyptians have already figured out that the whole affair is going in the wrong direction and seem to be jumping ship.The Syrians are having a field day by poking holes in the supposed “evidence” against them and their Lebanese lackeys, and they have dispatched their smug No. 2 intelligence man to Paris with a big dossier to bolster the argument of their “innocence.”

But the question remains: who killed Hariri? Whoever did it has wedded terrorism to long-term strategic planning. In the old days, regimes like Assad’s or Saddam’s or the Iranian mullahs, had mastered this dark art. But what if al-Qaeda is planning to use Lebanon as a launch pad to bring down the regime in Syria? There is more to this bigger picture, and scapegoating the Syrians may be easy but dangerous if it serves other interested parties skulking in the shadows.


This week's bomb fails to go off in North Lebanon

Lebanese police have prevented a bomb exploding in Sahil Alma. But it wasn't really the police who prevented it - neighbours saw two men trying to attach the device to a car.

They were targetting judge Nazim Khoury. He is leading an investigation into money-laundering at the Banque Al-Madina.

Just like in the civil war, rival gangs will use violence to get their own way. Syria has no connecton whatsoever to Banque Al-Madina - maybe now Lebanon's far-right will realise the Syrian presence actually helped them.


Rifaat to return

The butcher of Hama, Rifaat Al-Assad is planning a return.

Bashar's uncle, who was kicked out of the country a decade ago is said to be planning his return. He was responsible for the Hama massacre which killed 20,000 people in 1982.

Soon after the massacre his brother, President Hafez Al-Assad went to hospital. Rifaat spread rumours that Hafez was on his death bed, and Rifaats militias took to the streets of Damascus to ferment a coup.

He failed. Hafez came out of hospital and threw him out of the country. He was let back in in the 1990s, but caused trouble again and was kicked out for a second time.

Since his exile, he has lived in Spain, and his son has run anti-Bashar propoganda station, the 'Arab News Network' (ANN).

Now, he is said to have met close associates of Bush, as well as conjuring up Mohammed Saddiq - the Syrian 'witness' who said that he defected from Syria with proof that Syria was behind the Hariri murder.

The US's former head of anti-terrorism, Yossef Bodansky, announced Rifaat as Syria's next President earlier this week.

It could be political posturing, and a way of upping the pressure on Damascus. But more likely, it'll show that the US is more interested in exapanding its control - even if it means using warlords like Rifaat - than spreading democracy.

Rifaat has gained dubious support. From Faird Ghadry - the Washington based 'opposition' leader unknown in Syria. He said "If Rifaat Assad wants to help Syria and wants to be part of a democratic process then let him say so."

About me

  • Written by sasa
  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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