Naharnet

Khoury Resumes STL Testimony, Tackles Early Stages of Hariri's Alliance with Anti-Syria Opposition

Former MP Ghattas Khoury continued on Friday his testimony before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, recounting how slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri began to ally himself with the emergent anti-Syria opposition in Lebanon in the aftermath of the extension of the term of President Emile Lahoud in September 2004.

The early signs of his joining of the opposition began with Hariri's rejection of the inclusion of pro-Syria figures on electoral lists devised for the 2005 parliamentary elections.

Khoury explained that the Syrian regime had prevented Hariri from coming up with his own electoral list, forcing him instead to include pro-Syria officials.

Hariri had voiced his rejection of Damascus' intentions during a meeting he held with then Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir on December 22, 2004, revealed the former MP before the STL.

Syrian officials sought to include six pro-Damascus on his electoral lists, which Hariri opposed, he added.

“The Syrian regime understood Hariri's stance as a sign that he was joining the opposition,” Khoury noted.

The former premier had also made his point clear during a meeting he held with then Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon Rustom Ghazali, he continued.

He told the court that the meeting between the two officials “was not good.”

“Hariri informed me that he was aware that his intention to come up with electoral lists for all Lebanese regions was an act of defiance against the Syrian regime,” revealed Khoury.

The Lebanese opposition at the time however still had its doubts over Hariri, suspecting that he may be seeking to include “secret pro-Syrian officials” on his lists and it therefore sought to build trust with him, continued Khoury.

Consequently Hariri held meetings with pro-Syrian figures, then MPs Nasser Qandil, Adnan Arakji, and Bassem Yamout, to inform them that they will not be included on the lists, said Khoury.

This was seen as a sign that Hariri was indeed leaning towards the opposition, explained the former lawmaker.

Hariri then tasked slain Minister Bassel Fleihan to attend Bristol gathering meetings of the opposition.

Khoury explained that the former premier tasked the minister to this role in order to give himself room for political maneuvers.

Earlier on Friday, the former MP said that Hariri decided to step down from his post following the extension of Lahoud's term “after he realized that a reasonable settlement with the Syria was not possible.”

Moreover, he revealed that Hariri “sensed that he was being targeted by the Syrian regime after the number of his security entourage was reduced.”

The debate over the extension of Lahoud's term strained ties between Hariri and the Syrian regime and has been the focus of political testimonies before the STL.

He then spoke of the influence Damascus wielded over political life in Lebanon, particularly over the victory of Gabriel al-Murr in the 2004 Metn by-elections.

“Murr was competing in the polls against his niece Mirna al-Murr and Ghassan Mukheiber,” he explained.

Gabriel Murr was victorious, but Mirna's father, MP Michel al-Murr, appealed the victory to Lahoud, continued Khoury.

“Pressure was exerted on the Constitutional Council that eliminated his win and granted the seat to Mukheiber, who only earned 1,500 votes,” said the former MP.

“This was a flagrant example of Syria's pressure on the Lebanese judiciary and sign of the regime's claws in Lebanon,” he stressed.

He added that Gabriel al-Murr had earned hundreds of more votes than Mirna al-Murr, reaping over 33,000 votes.

“The appointment of Mukheiber to parliament through a judicial settlement and security pressure through Lahoud was a precedent in Lebanon,” he remarked.

“The opposition would have taken to the streets had Mirna al-Murr been declared the victor in the polls,” Khoury said.

The STL is tackling the February 2005 assassination of Hariri and 22 others in a major bombing in Beirut.

Fleihan, who was in Hariri's convoy, sustained severe burns during the attack. He succumbed to his injuries a few weeks later in 2005.

It is currently listening to the testimonies of a number of witnesses who were close to Hariri in the months preceding the assassination.

MP Marwan Hamadeh gave his testimony in late 2014 and journalist Faisal Salman gave his testimony at the resumption of the hearings in 2015.

Khoury is scheduled to resume his testimony on January 20. He will be followed by witness Salim Diab on January 22 and 23.

M.T.

G.K.


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