STL May Summon Jumblat to Testify as Hamadeh Addresses Syrian Opposition to Taef, Hariri-Lahoud Ties

MP Marwan Hamadeh resumed on Tuesday his testimony before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, focusing on Syria's hegemony over Lebanon under the premiership of slain PM Rafik Hariri and examining his ties with former President Emile Lahoud.

The ties between Hariri and MP Walid Jumblat came into prominence during the debate over the extension of Lahoud's term in 2004, prompting the STL Prosecution to reveal that it is studying the possibility of summoning the lawmaker to make his testimony before the tribunal.

Hamadeh kicked off the second day of his testimony by addressing the Syrian leadership's opposition to the Taef Accord and attempts to execute the remaining articles of the agreement that were not implemented at the end of the Lebanese civil war.

The MP recounted how he had proposed to Hariri to include the implementation of the remaining articles in a ministerial statement in 2003.

“I had presented to Hariri in 2003 some articles of the accord that had not been implemented, such as Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, to which the former PM responded, 'Do you want to kill us both?' before throwing the sheet in the trash,” revealed Hamadeh.

“Hariri believed that referring to the Taef Accord in the ministerial statement would be tantamount to a declaration of war against the Syrian regime,” he added.

The lawmaker stated that Hariri had reservations over Syria's influence over Lebanon, confiding to him of the pressure he was under from Syrian officials.

“Hariri was very annoyed with this influence and he used to relay to us the details of his meetings in Damascus and with (Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon) Rustom Ghazali,” he continued.

“I used to meet with Hariri on an almost daily basis and his greatest concern was how to diminish Syria's influence, such as through parliamentary polls,” he said.

In addition, he remarked that Hariri's annoyance with Syria reached a peak when he decided in 2000 to withdraw from political life in Lebanon.

Attention was then shifted to Syria's pressure on the Lebanese press as Hamadeh recounted how the regime sought to “silence free media in Lebanon.”

Following the closure of MTV in 2003, Syrian officials directed their pressure to An Nahar newspaper, of which Hariri was a shareholder.

“Syrian President Bashar Assad used to get upset with the articles of Ghassan Tueni and Samir Kassir, so he sought to close or bankrupt the daily,” he revealed.

To that end, the Syrian leadership ordered Hariri to sell his shares in the newspaper and make individuals he was affiliated with in its board to do the same, stated Hamadeh.

“The Syrian regime sought the bankruptcy of An Nahar newspaper after the closure of MTV in 2002,” he added.

The testimony then tackled Hariri's relationship with Syrian officials between 2003 and 2004 as tensions between the two sides increased amid speculation that Lahoud's term may be extended.

The MP spoke of a meeting Hariri had in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad from which he returned to Beirut with a bloody nose.

He revealed that the premier had left an August 2004 meeting so agitated that he banged his head against his car window in frustration.

The details of the meeting were not disclosed.

Hariri said that he felt humiliated after the meeting, added Hamadeh.

Commenting on the extension of Lahoud's term, the MP said that Hariri had initially rejected the former army chief's election as president in 1998, while Lahoud had later opposed a number of the premier's development projects.

“Coming from a military background, Lahoud probably did not know how a democratic state can be managed and he was also Syria's main man in Lebanon,” continued Hamadeh.

“Furthermore, Lahoud had always turned to Syria to impose a new cabinet and parliament in Lebanon. They were choices we opposed,” he remarked.

“In 2003, we had growing concerns that Syria would seek the extension of Lahoud's term and we attempted to persuade Syrian officials to hold regular elections,” Hamadeh said.

“We soon however began to become aware of Syria's rejection of the possibility of holding regular elections and that the regime sought to extend Lahoud's term,” he added.

“The pro-Syrian media and agencies and Lahoud's entourage made us believe that Syria only trusts the president and will not accept any alternative to the extension,” he explained.

“For his part, Hariri said he would rather cut his arm off rather than sign the decree on the extension,” he revealed.

“As a minister and lawmaker, I completely opposed the extension. The bloc I was affiliated with at the time was not on good terms with Lahoud or the Syrian regime under Assad,” Hamadeh remarked.

The extension, which took place through a constitutional amendment, occurred in September 2004.

Hamadeh recounted the details that led up to the extension and the role of the Syrian leadership and that of Ghazali in achieving its aim.

He recalled how Jumblat had rejected the extension, saying he would discuss the matter with Assad in Damascus to which Ghazali said that there will be no meeting with the Syrian president if he did not head to Syria to discuss the approval of the extension.

Head of Syrian intelligence in Beirut, Jamaa Jamaa, then contacted Jumblat after his meeting with Ghazali to inform him that his scheduled visit to Assad had been canceled, Hamadeh added.

Ghazali told Hariri that the extension “is not open to discussion”, to which the PM replied that he will not head to Syria and that he had “made up his mind on the matter”, he said.

Ghazali then suggested that Hariri head to his Damascus residence and await a meeting with Assad, which the premier rejected, stated the lawmaker.

Hamadeh also confirmed to the STL that the telephone lines of Lebanese officials were wiretapped, saying: “Our lines were tapped and we were being watched for years and years.”

He then recounted how Hariri had sacked head of his security, Ali al-Hajj, following suspicions that he was cooperating with Syrian intelligence.

He spoke of how the slain premier had set up a test to Hajj to verify if he was indeed relaying information to Syrian officials.

He gave Hajj a false piece of information and he soon received a telephone call from Ghazali to inquire about the news, which confirmed Hariri's suspicions that Hajj was working for Syrian intelligence.

“Hajj was sacked, but he was rewarded for his service by being appointed head of the Internal Security Forces,” Hamadeh recalled.

The lawmaker began his testimony in the case of the assassination of Hariri on Monday, focusing on Syria's influence on Lebanon and its alleged complicity in the February 2005 crime.

The MP, who was the victim of an assassination attempt in October 2004, is expected to testify for three to four days.

In addition to the lawmaker, other officials and journalists who were close to Hariri, will testify in court on the former PM's deteriorating ties with Syria, the neighboring country's increasing resolve to have more influence on Lebanon's internal affairs and growing concerns by the international community regarding the foreign political pressure exerted on Lebanon.

The STL, which is based in The Hague, will also hear the evolution of the opposition movement in Lebanon in September 2004, of which Hariri was first silent and then went public. And finally Hariri's influence as a statesman.

In the immediate aftermath of the former prime minister's assassination in a suicide truck bombing in Beirut, suspicion fell on Syria, since Hariri had been seeking to weaken its domination of Lebanon.

Syria has denied any role in the murder, but the killing galvanized opposition to Damascus and led to huge street demonstrations dubbed the "Cedar Revolution,” which forced the exit of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Hamadeh had a leading role along with other politicians from the March 14 alliance in organizing the rallies.



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