October 31, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1747

In Letter to U.N. Secretary-General, Lebanese Prime Minister Accuses Syria of Being Behind Fath Al-Islam

October 31, 2007
Syria, Lebanon | Special Dispatch No. 1747

In a harsh letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and to Arab League Secretary-General 'Amr Moussa, sent on October 11, 2007, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Al-Siniora accused Syria of being behind Fath Al-Islam. Al-Siniora stated that, according to information obtained from Fath Al-Islam detainees, the organization leaders had been in direct contact with Syrian intelligence officers. He added that most of the organization fighters had infiltrated Lebanon illegally through the Syrian border, and that Syrian intelligence had used the organization to further its political and security aims in Lebanon.

In the second part of the letter, Al-Siniora expressed concern over the fact that numerous political factions in Lebanon are arming themselves, and stated that Syria had transferred large quantities of arms to its supporters in Lebanon, both during the July 2006 war and after it.

In response to Al-Siniora's letter, Syria sent a letter of its own to Ban Ki-Moon, in which it characterized Al-Siniora's accusations as "lies" and as "false claims that barely merit a reply." The Syrian letter stated that it had been proven that elements within the Lebanese government had extended material aid and moral support to Fath Al-Islam.

The following are excerpts from the two letters:

Fuad Al-Siniora: Syria is Behind Fath Al-Islam

Al-Siniora's letter to Ban Ki-Moon and 'Amr Moussa stated:[1]

"After fierce battles lasting over 15 weeks, the Lebanese military managed to wipe out the gang [called] Fath Al-Islam, which had been holding the refugee camp of Nahr Al-Bared hostage with the aim of spreading anarchy throughout the country. [At the same time,] the Lebanese government and citizens have received [worrying] reports [to the effect that various] political groups and parties in Lebanon are investing all their energies in training military [forces] and in acquiring arms and military equipment. In light of this [situation], I wish to consult and share information with you regarding the infiltration of armed [fighters] into Lebanon. On September 24, [2007], the [Lebanese] government held a special session to discuss and handle this issue, during which it received reports from the security and intelligence apparatuses regarding these two issues...

"Honorable Secretary-General, you know that these [developments], and the government discussions of these issues, are occurring as the presidential elections draw near, and it seems that a shadow hangs over these elections because of the security situation. The situation is such that the lives of members of parliament from the [ruling] majority are in danger, for they are being targeted and some have [already] been assassinated – the most recent [of the victims] being MP Antoine Ghanem. It is also possible that the election of a new president will be prevented by spreading anarchy and instability...

"Fath Al-Islam:

"1. Information emerging from the events in Nahr Al-Bared, and the incidents that followed them – including information obtained from interrogations of Fath Al-Islam detainees, from the Internet, and from intercepted telephone communications – indicates that the organization's plan, or plot, was of dangerous proportions. [There were intentions] to take over a large part of northern Lebanon, to instigate riots throughout the country, to bomb government and private facilities, and to attack the international forces in South Lebanon in order to intimidate the countries [from which they came] and jeopardize the continued deployment of these forces, which came to Lebanon on the basis of [U.N.] Resolution 1701 and [as part of] its implementation.

"2. The information indicates that the Fath Al-Islam gang intended, among other goals, to topple the Lebanese government, which was established democratically and enjoys the confidence of the parliament; to prevent the holding of a democratic presidential election; and to create circumstances that would prevent the establishment of an international tribunal to try the murderers of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri and of those who were assassinated after him.

"3. Interrogations of Fatah Al-Islam detainees have revealed that some of them believe in jihad, and thought they were training for [military activities] in Iraq. Most of the organization's non-Lebanese fighters entered [the country] illegally through the Syrian border. There was [also] a small group [of non-Lebanese fighters] who had not been involved in previous [military] activities, and who arrived [not through the Syrian border but] through Beirut airport. Our assumption is that, owing to the severe pressures exerted on Syria by the Arab [countries], by Europe, and by America to stop sending jihad fighters into Iraq, [Syria began] to send some of these fighters to Lebanon [instead], in the guise of Fath Al-Islam fighters. Their commander was Shaker Al-'Absi, who, strangely enough, was released from the Syrian prison ahead of time, along with some of his followers.

"4. Those who entered Lebanon illegally came through military camps belonging to the Popular Front-General Command, [headed by] Ahmad Jibril, and through camps of the Fatah-Intifada [organization]. These camps are [located] in Lebanon, right on the Syrian border. These organizations are known to have camps on the border, on Lebanese soil, and to receive funds, arms and ammunition directly from Syria on a daily basis. The Fath Al-Islam fighters not only passed through these camps but also received training there.

"5. The circumstances of [Shaker Al-'Absi's] release from the Syrian prison; the way in which he and [other] Fath Al-Islam fighters passed into Lebanon; the aid they received from Fatah-Intifada in Syria, in crossing the Syrian-Lebanese [border], and in Lebanon [itself]; the quiet takeover [of Fatah-Intifada by Fath Al-Islam], after which Fatah-Intifada turned all its bases and funds over to Fath Al-Islam – all these indicate [the existence] of a well-laid plan that could not have been made without the knowledge of the leaders of Fatah-Intifada, [and without the knowledge] of their sponsors, namely the Syrian intelligence. Fatah Al-Islam detainees revealed under interrogation that some of their leaders were in direct contact with Syrian intelligence officers. This means that Syrian intelligence used Fatah Al-Islam, or some of its members, [to further] its political and security aims in Lebanon.

"6. The confessions of [some] Fath Al-Islam members, who planted explosive devices in two buses near the village of 'Ain 'Alaq northeast of Beirut, confirms that this organization and its aims have nothing to do with jihad. Moreover, the murder of Lebanese soldiers who were off duty, and even of some innocent civilians, as well as the robbing of banks and places of business, are not in concord with the goals of jihad that this organization purports [to pursue]. This has caused nearly all the Palestinian groups to distance themselves from this new organization and from its conduct and actions, and even to condemn these terrorist operations. In their confessions, the suspects in the 'Ain 'Alaq bombings stated that they had been specifically ordered to carry out the bombing on February 14 [2007], on the eve of the anniversary of Al-Hariri's assassination, because of the marches and demonstrations that were [planned] for that day. This shows that these people were motivated by political, rather than ideological, aims...

"7. The detainees also revealed that the [Fatah Al-Islam] fighters come from two places. Some come from outside Lebanon. Most of these are Syrians, Palestinians and others who reside in Syria, and some of them were ordered to carry out operations outside Nahr Al-Bared, like the bombing of the two buses in 'Ain 'Alaq. The [second group consists of fighters] from Nahr Al-Bared [itself]. These [fighters] were confined in Nahr Al-Bared and were not allowed to operate outside it. This is in tandem with the dual nature of this organization: some of its members were extremists with well-defined goals, and others were [fighters] from the refugee camp, who were exploited for other purposes.

"8. The Lebanese military and security forces have managed to crush the head of the snake in Nahr Al-Bared. However, reliable reports speak of ties between [Fath Al-Islam] and other extremist organizations all over Lebanon. The Lebanese government and its military and security forces are maintaining a high level of alert in order to pursue the Fath Al-Islam members who are still at large, as well as others who may be in contact with them. [However], their efforts are being hampered by the fact that the official Lebanese [security] forces are unable to monitor all the Lebanese territories and to pursue [the terrorists] wherever they are – especially in the Palestinian refugee camps, which have been a no-entry zone for the Lebanese [armed] forces since 1969...

"[Military] Training and Armament Activities of Various Political Groups in Lebanon

"1. It has [indeed] come to the knowledge of the military and security forces of Lebanon that [certain] Lebanese political groups are arming themselves. Also, in several parts in the country [various groups] are training [their members] in the use of arms.

"2. In response, it seems that the rest of the political groups are [also] training [their members] in self defense, as a precautionary [measure]. There are reports that the opposition forces are distributing arms [to their activists] and training them in their use. Some [opposition] groups are apparently being [trained and armed] by Hizbullah. There are also reports that large quantities of weapons were smuggled [into Lebanon] from Syria during the July 2006 war, and perhaps also after it, and distributed to groups with strong ties to Syria.

"3. The Lebanese government views these reports... by the security and intelligence apparatuses with great concern. It has instructed all the security apparatuses to counter these activities and to stamp them out by every legal means, in order to prevent the emergence of a climate conducive to internal armed conflict. The government has also instructed its executive apparatuses to treat all the political groups equally in enforcing the law against [engaging in activities of] armament and military training...

"Dear Secretary-General, I hope that you find this information useful at this time, when the Arab League and the U.N. are focusing their efforts on helping Lebanon to preserve its independence and stability and to protect it from external and internal dangers. The aim of this letter is to stress the importance of monitoring the Lebanese borders and of preventing the smuggling of arms into Lebanon. That is the most crucial issue..."

Syrian Government: It Has Been Proven That Elements in the Lebanese Government Supported Fath Al-Islam

The Syrian letter sent in response to Al-Siniora's letter stated:[2]

"...Syria's greatest concern... is the tension in Lebanon, which has reached unacceptable levels and which threatens Lebanon's present and even its future. In this context, we [wish to] say that the [usual] blunt intervention by a [certain] international power – which, until today, has [only] deepened the disagreement among the Lebanese and kept them from resolving their problems... – is a direct threat to Lebanon's security and stability, since [this international power] is clearly biased in favor of [one] Lebanese faction and against another. [This intervention] is accompanied by a campaign of deception in the media, aimed at placing blame on [certain] elements in Lebanon, and on Syria, whenever [this superpower] fails to impose its suspicious objectives on Lebanon.

"When Syria emphasized its willingness to help its Lebanese brothers to bridge their differences, and stressed its overwhelming desire to establish good relations with Lebanon, on every level, it found that some Lebanese had adopted radical views that did not serve [the objective] of establishing relations, and [did so], as usual, with the help of foreign elements. Matters reached the point where [certain] Lebanese officials used their recent visit to the United Nations as an opportunity to achieve one goal and one goal only – namely, to damage Syria's image, to incite the Security Council against Syria, and to convey messages to the U.N. and to other elements that do not imply even the slightest desire for natural relations between [Syria and Lebanon].[3] These [Lebanese] elements also launched campaigns of deception in the media, distorting facts and damaging the long-standing [good] relations between these two peoples and the two countries...

"This behavior, which evinces not the slightest degree of diplomatic or moral good manners, left no opportunity for serious dialogue between the two countries. The attack [on Syria was launched] by officials from the highest echelons of the Lebanese government, and by commanders of certain militias that spilled Lebanese blood during the civil war and are now represented in the Lebanese government. It was against this backdrop that Lebanese Prime Minister [Al-Siniora] sent his October 8, 2007 letter to U.N. Secretary-General [Ban Ki-Moon]. [The letter] was full of deceptions and distortions, the purpose of which was to cover for the [faults] of this government, of its officials, and of those who stand behind them, and for their failure to take responsibility for the various sectors of [Lebanese] society...

"Syria reacted to these statements [with restraint], and [decided] to refrain from responding to the lies, attacks and incitement against it. Syria continued its policy of supporting Lebanon – all the Lebanese – in the face of the great challenges that Lebanon, and the entire region, are [currently] facing...

"The grudge felt by the Lebanese prime minister against Syria caused him to accuse Syria, in his recent letter, of supporting the terrorists of Fath Al-Islam. This was a desperate attempt [on his part] to cover for the [certain] elements in the Lebanese government who, it has been proven, extended material and moral support to the terrorists of [this organization]. The Lebanese prime minister knows better than anyone that it was Syria who extended generous support to the Lebanese army in its struggle against the terrorists in Nahr Al-Bared, and that it closed its border [with Lebanon] in order to assist the Lebanese army. Contrary to the false claims of this letter, Syria emphasized that Fath Al-Islam is just as much an enemy of Syria as it is an enemy of Lebanon. In this context, we wish to draw [the attention] of the Lebanese prime minister to statements made by top commanders in the Lebanese army, who emphasized that Fath Al-Islam is a branch of Al-Qaeda and has no connection whatsoever to the Syrian intelligence. This was [acknowledged] by the commander-in-chief of the Lebanese army, and by the head of the Lebanese military intelligence, on September 4, 2007.

"As for the claims in [Al-Siniora's] letter regarding the release [from the Syrian prison] of the one called Shaker Al-'Absi, these are stupid claims that hardly merit a response. It is a well-known [fact] that there have been several clashes between the Syrian security forces and Fath Al-Islam, and that [the Syrian security forces] managed to kill several of its members, including its second-in-command, called Ahmad Tayoura, who was killed close to the Syrian-Iraqi border when the fighting in Nahr Al-Bared broke out. The Lebanese prime minister mentioned the nationality of some of the terrorists [of Fath Al-Islam], but refrained from mentioning the nationality [of others] – who [actually] made up the majority of the Fath Al-Islam terrorists – for reasons that are obvious to all.[4]

"The government of the Arab Syrian Republic wishes to reiterate once again that it has taken every possible measure to prevent infiltration across its border with Lebanon. It has doubled the [number of] border patrol troops on the Syrian side. In addition, the talks between the Lebanese and the Syrians regarding the monitoring of the border continue, and we have submitted to the [U.N.] secretary-general and to the chairman of the Security Council a detailed list of these talks. In repeating the accusations made by Israel and by those standing behind it [against Syria] regarding the smuggling of arms across the Syrian-Lebanese [border], the [Lebanese] prime minister has [endorsed] the position of the enemy regarding Syria, and has [thus] revealed his true colors and has taken off the masks behind which he has long been hiding.

"As for the Palestinian presence in Lebanon, it is known to be regulated by Palestinian-Lebanese agreements. [It is also known] that all the Palestinian bases in Lebanon are on Lebanese soil. Hence, Syria is not responsible for any damage caused by the agreements between the Palestinian and Lebanese sides, if such a [breach] has indeed occurred.

"The timing of Al-Siniora's letter, which includes false claims and distorted facts, comes at a crucial juncture for Lebanon, a short time before the [Lebanese] presidential elections. Instead of working to unite the Lebanese people, and helping them to reach an agreement in order to resolve the problems facing Lebanon, the prime minister and the forces he represents are unreservedly endorsing the positions of one side, and blaming Syria unjustly for the failure of their [own] policy.

"In the near future, you [Ban Ki-Moon] are due to present the Security Council with two reports on the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701. In this regard, Syria reiterates that it has complied with all [the articles] that relate to it in Resolution 1559 by withdrawing its military and security forces from Lebanon. Syria also emphasizes that, regardless of what has been stated in the past and may be stated in the future in the reports of [U.N.] Special Representative Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen, the issues of establishing diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon, and the demarcation of the border between them, impinge upon the sovereignty of the two countries, and will [only] be resolved in an agreement between the Syrian government and a Lebanese government that will not position itself as an enemy of Syria. All relevant parties in Lebanon and outside it, and all member countries in the U.N., must know that Syria is completely willing to establish full diplomatic relations with any Lebanese government that believes in [maintaining] friendly relations with Syria and is not hostile towards [Syria], as the present Al-Siniora government is.

"Israel's violations of [U.N.] Resolution 1701, which occur on an almost daily basis, and which have been mentioned in dozens of Lebanese letters [of complaint] to the Security Council, prove that it is Israel who is disregarding this resolution and ignoring its articles. As for the attacks carried out by criminal elements against UNIFIL in South Lebanon, Syria has condemned them in no uncertain terms...

"Syria takes this opportunity to reiterate its unchanging position, which [calls to] preserve the unity of the Lebanese territory and the Lebanese people, [and which upholds] Lebanon's independence and [calls for] non-interference in its internal affairs. Syria emphasizes its willingness to work with all faithful elements and sides in order to [help] Lebanon overcome this difficult period in its history. In particular, Syria emphasizes its support for any sincere effort [aimed at promoting] the election of a Lebanese president who will be accepted by all the [Lebanese] and who will be president of all the Lebanese. It stresses its desire to establish the best possible relations with its sister [Lebanon], [especially] in light of the joint interests of the two countries and the two peoples."

[1] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), October 12, 2007.

[2] Teshreen (Syria), October 19, 2007.

[3] The reference is to the following events: on October 8-9, 2007, Al-Mustaqbal Chairman Sa'd Al-Hariri and other members of his faction met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and with several of his aides, including Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Affairs Jean-Marie Guéhenno, and U.N. Special Representative for the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559 Terje Roed Larsen. Al-Hariri also met with representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council. The talks dealt with ways to stop the wave of assassinations of Lebanese leaders, with the need to accelerate the establishment of the international tribunal, and with the implementation of U.N. Resolution 1701 and other U.N. resolutions concerning Lebanon. One week later, on October 16, 2007, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt met in New York with Ban Ki-Moon, Nicolas Michel, Terje Roed Larsen and the representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council, to discuss similar issues. Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), October 9, 2007; October 10, 2007; October 17, 2007.

[4] The allusion is probably to the Saudi origin of several of the Fath-Al-Islam members.

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