Opposition blames Syria and the Lebanese government for the assassination
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 2/15/2005 | 2:38 pm
Opposition leaders and angry demonstrators gathered, yesterday evening, in front of Hariri's house, blaming Syria and the Lebanese government for the most serious political assassination in Lebanon since sectarian fighting ended nearly 16 years ago. The opposition leaders also called for full investigation, the government's resignation and a complete pullout of the 14, 000 Syrian troops.
“We hold the Lebanese and the Syrian governments, responsible for the crime," MP Bassem Sabeh said after an opposition meeting at Hariri's Beirut family home.
"We demand the resignation of the government, which has lost all legitimacy, and the establishment of an interim-government," added Sabeh.
The 60-year-old Al-Hariri, who was killed yesterday in a massive car-bomb attack, with 13 others, in the heart of the Lebanese capital, had emerged in recent months as a chief opponent of the presence of Syrian troops in the country. He was also associated with the period of stability he oversaw in three terms as prime minister, and with the rejuvenation of this bomb-blasted city.
As speculations still surround the question of who carried out Monday's bombing in Beirut, the Bush administration was already sure of the 'hand of Syria', hinting at penalties, said the NY Times today.
The Bush administration, condemning the assassination of Rafik Hariri suggested Monday that Syria was to blame and moved to get a new condemnation of Syria's domination of Lebanon at the United Nations Security Council.
However, Scott McClellan, the White House spokesperson said they had no concrete evidence of Syria's involvement in the killing of Al-Hariri.
At her Senate confirmation hearings, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed US concerns about Syria's role in Lebanon and Iraq and its alleged links to terrorism. "It's fair to say that the Syrian government is behaving in a way that could unfortunately lead to long-term bad relations with the US," she said.
According to the Washington Post, American and European officials also said the administration was studying the possibility of tougher sanctions on Syria, effectively tightening penalties imposed in May, when Washington said the Syrian government had failed to act against militant groups in Israel and against a supply line from Syria to the insurgents in Iraq.
Syria denies any role and condemned the bombings. It also denies supporting terrorism and says it is doing its best to control its long desert border with Iraq to prevent the flow of foreign insurgents, supplies and funds.
The Accountability Act - which already bans all US exports to Syria excluding food and medicine - still has some measures available to it, including downgrading diplomatic relations and imposing travel restrictions on Syrian officials in the US.
Lebanon on 'High Alert'
Lebanon has declared state of emergency following the murder of Rafiq Hariri. The government mobilized its army on ``high alert'' to safeguard the stability of the country, the Lebanese official National News Agency said.
Soldiers have been deployed on the streets of Beirut and other cities, and those on leave recalled for duty, the NNA reported, citing an army statement issued late yesterday after a meeting of President Emile Lahoud's security committee. The statement didn't mention whether the 15,000 Syrian soldiers based in Lebanon would participate in the security operation.
The Supreme Council for Defence, which groups the president, cabinet ministers and military officials, also declared three days of national mourning. The NNA said Hariri's funeral would be tomorrow in a mosque in Beirut.
Who killed Hariri?
After Hariri's assassination, analysts were reluctant to accuse any person, state, or organization, claiming there were many parties who had an interest in killing him and stirring tensions in Lebanon.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera Channel had aired a videotape showing a young man reading a statement in front of a black banner marked with the name of an unknown Islamist group and the Muslim 'Shahada' (faith in the oneness of God and the finality of the prophethood of Mohamed). An-Nosra wal Jihad fi Bilad al-Sham (Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria) claimed responsibility for yesterday's assassination Rafiq Hariri.
Later, the Lebanese satellite channel LBCI reported, yesterday, that security sources said they had searched a West Beirut house of a Palestinian named Ahmed Abu Adass, believed to be the one who appeared in the videotape. Adass was not found in the house. Officials presume he had fled or he died in the suicide attack.
Analysts, however, said the magnitude of the blast suggested an intelligence agency was behind the explosion rather than a small group.
Reuters, reported, later today, that Al Qaeda issued a statement today denying Islamists had killed Rafik al-Hariri, saying Lebanese, Syrian or Israeli intelligence were behind the attack.
The statement, signed by a hitherto unknown group calling itself the Al Qaeda Organization in the Levant, was posted on an Islamist Web site often used by al Qaeda, a day after the other unknown Islamist group said it was behind the huge Beirut blast. "Blaming the Jihadist and Salafist groups for what happened in Beirut is a complete fabrication," the statement said. "The priorities of the jihadist groups in the Levant are supporting our brethren in Iraq and Palestine, not blowing up cars," added the statement.
The statement went on: "this is clearly an operation that was planned by a state intelligence agency ... and we blame either the Mossad, the Syrian regime or the Lebanese regime." The authenticity of the statement could not be immediately verified, analysts said.
Beirut bombing: A terrible reminder
Some suggested that al-Hariri's assassination is a return to the dark days of Lebanon's civil war that killed more than 100,000 people and raged uninterrupted between 1975 and 1990.
Beirut was often rocked by car bombs and political assassinations during its 15-year civil war, when fighting among religious and political factions tore Lebanon apart. But they have been rare since then.
Neighbouring Syria became ever more dominant during the conflict and took much of the credit for ending the war, but Lebanese voices calling for Damascus to pull out its 14,000 troops have grown louder, backed by a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for their withdrawal.
Not so far, just in October 2004, a car bomb wounded opposition parliamentarian Marwan Hamade, soon after he quit his position as economy minister in protest at the extension of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's term.
Other leaders were assassinated throughout the last decade in Lebanon. They include Mohammad Jihad Ahmed Jibril, a Palestinian military leader, who was killed by a bomb that ripped through his car in Beirut in May 2002; Christian leader Dany Chamoun, who was killed along with his wife and two of their children in a commando raid on their home near Beirut in October 1990; president Rene Mouawad who was assassinated only 17 days after taking office in an attack in west Beirut that killed 15; Sunni prime minister Rashid Karami, who was killed by a bomb planted under his seat in a helicopter in 1987, and others.
Rafik Hariri, 60, who joined this long list when he was killed yesterday, had held the office of prime minister for most of the past 12 years before quitting in October 2004 amid a bitter rift with President Lahoud.
A mixture of fear and hope dominates Lebanon. Some Lebanese see Al Hariri's murder as a terrible reminder they have to cope with, and work to pursue their own political future, free from violence and intimidation and free from Syrian occupation. Others hope that his assassination would only be a political one.
May Parliamentary elections
It was unclear if his murder would delay parliamentary elections expected in April and May in Lebanon. The expected elections are considered an event which is seen as a litmus test of Syria's support in the country. The UN has dispatched an envoy to Lebanon to assess the implementation of Resolution 1559 and observe the electoral process.