Naharnet

Jumblat Says Syria Used Lebanese Allies to Weaken Hariri

Progressive Socialist Party chief MP Walid Jumblat recounted on Wednesday how the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad used its allies in Lebanon to limit the powers of ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his supporters.

“Hariri was working on expanding the opposition on the unconstitutional extension” of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's term in 2004, Jumblat told the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on the third day of his testimony.

But one of Syria's allies, then Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh proposed an electoral draft-law that limited the powers of Hariri and the opposition backing him, said Jumblat.

He told the Trial Chamber that the draft-law was an attempt to undermine his representation and that of Hariri. “That's why we rejected it.”

Franjieh, an MP who heads the Marada Movement, is a good friend of Assad, said Jumblat. “He used to act as a gang leader” when he was interior minister.

The PSP chief also revealed that the lawmaker accused him on several occasions of being an Israeli agent.

A voice of recording of a February 1, 2005 meeting between Hariri and with then Syrian deputy Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem was aired before the court to demonstrate the influence of Syria on political proceedings in Lebanon.

The meeting showed an upset Hariri disputing with the Syrian official over the distribution of electoral districts for the 2005 parliamentary elections.

Hariri also informed Muallem that he went ahead with the extension of Lahoud's term in order to avoid a dispute with Syria and President Bashar Assad, but added that “it is time that Lebanon be governed from Lebanon, not Syria,” explained Jumblat to the Prosecution.

The MP added: “I believe Muallem was seeking to appease Hariri before his assassination.”

“I know the ways the Syrian regime works. It acted the same way weeks before the assassination of Kamal Jumblat” in 1977, he said.

“Hariri wanted Lebanon to be governed independently from Syria and its security agencies, but while remaining its ally,” he continued when asked about the former PM's discussions with Muallem in the recording.

“He wanted to be reassured that he will be able to perform his duties as prime minister without Syria treating Lebanon as a Syrian province,” he stated.

The Prosecution then concluded its cross-examination of the MP and was followed by the Legal Representative of the Victims and then the Defense.

The Defense will continue interrogating Jumblat on Thursday.

On his second day of testimony, Jumblat said Hariri told him six days before he was assassinated on Feb. 14, 2005, “either they will kill you or they will kill me.”

The attempt on the life of MP Marwan Hamadeh in October 2004 was the first warning to Hariri, he said.

“Hamadeh's assassination attempt was an interpretation of Assad's threat to Hariri,” said Jumblat. “It was the first clear message of … confrontation.”

According to Jumblat and several politicians who made testimonies at the STL, Hariri had confided to them that during a meeting they held in Damascus in August 2004, Assad threatened to destroy Lebanon if the former PM rejected the extension of Lahoud's term.

Five Hizbullah members have been charged with plotting Hariri's assassination in a massive explosion at the Beirut seafront but have not been arrested. Their trial in absentia began in January 2014 and is ongoing.

Hizbullah denies involvement in the murder and the group's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has denounced the court as a conspiracy by his archenemies — the U.S. and Israel.

G.K./M.T.

H.K.


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