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memri
February 24, 2005 No.
210

Reactions to Former Lebanese PM Al-Hariri's Assassination

By: C. Jacob*

The recent assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri evoked diverse reactions in the Arab world. The claim of responsibility by the unknown Support and Jihad - Greater Syria organization in a video recording aired by Al-Jazeera TV was rejected by many.

Opposition elements in Lebanon that had gained Al-Hariri's support prior to his death blamed Syria and the Lebanese government, called for the establishment of an international investigative committee, and declared February 18, 2005 to be the date of the outbreak of the "Intifada of Independence" that would act to bring about a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and Lebanese elections in the spring.

Meanwhile, Syrian and Lebanese authorities denied all connection to the assassination, and, together with other elements in the Arab world, deflected the blame towards the U.S. and Israel. The following are excerpts from the Arab press on Al-Hariri's assassination:

Dismissing Claims of Al-Qa'ida Involvement

Following the assassination, Al-Jazeera TV aired a video recording by an organization calling itself Support and Jihad – Greater Syria, in which organization member Ahmad Abu 'Adas announced: " Out of support for our Mujahiddeen brothers in the land of the two holy places [Saudi Arabia] and in revenge for their pure Shahids murdered by the Saudi regime's security forces in the land of the two holy places, we have decided … to carry out the just punishment on the agent of this regime … the sinner Rafiq Al-Hariri… " [1]

After the recording was released, the Al-Qa'ida in Syria Organization published a communiqué denying any connection to the assassination. The communiqué, posted on the Internet message forum of the Islamist Syria Platform ( Minbar Suria Al-Islami ), stated: "What happened in Beirut and the attempt by the element that carried out [the deed] to blame the Jihad and Salafi factions in Syria is a great lie, for the following reasons: The Jihad organizations in Syria have their own priorities, and these do not include blowing up cars in the country's cities. As is known, what heads their priorities today is [providing] material and moral assistance to our brothers in Iraq and Palestine… It is unreasonable for the Al-Qa'ida organization, that did what it did in New York and Washington and sacrificed its best men for Beirut, to come today and blow up homes and streets in Beirut…

"We blame one of the three following elements: the Mossad; the Ba'th regime in Syria's intelligence, with the Lebanese intelligence's help; and the third possibility is the American intelligence apparatus." [2]

The Saudis also dismissed the video recording. Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz called the attempt to drag his country into the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri "idiotic." He also told newspaper reporters, "I do not think that a terror organization such as the one that broadcast the recording exists." [3]

The Lebanese Opposition Blames the Lebanese Government for Permitting the Blood of Opposition Members and Blames Syria for the Assassination

The Lebanese opposition accused the Lebanese government of treating opposition leaders like traitors and permitting their blood. Walid Jumblatt, chairman of the Lebanese Socialist Progressive Party and the Democratic Gathering bloc in the Lebanese parliament, said that the Lebanese government had "placed us in the category of traitors, collaborators with Israel, the U.S., and France…" [4]

Fares Hashshan, columnist for the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, which was owned by Al-Hariri, wrote: "There is a consensus in the country [Lebanon] that it is impossible to trust that the failed government will be capable of investigating [the assassination] and providing answers, because even if it is innocent of this act of terrorism, it bears full responsibility for what happened [the assassination]…

"Prior to the assassination, the authorities classified Al-Hariri as being an agent of foreigners, and accused him of dreadful treachery. They called him all kinds of things through their apparatuses: 'leader of the conspiracy,' 'creator of Resolution 1559,' 'opposition boss.' This regime's lamentations are to no avail; its statements are documented, its repression known…

"The [Lebanese] authorities benefited from Al-Hariri's assassination… They assume that the plot they are talking about has taken a blow; they imagine that political life in Lebanon will die out; and they smile because from here on no one is certain of being protected or having immunity. For months these authorities have been inciting to assassinate Al-Hariri, and they benefit from his disappearance." [5]

The Lebanese opposition elements blamed Syria for the assassination, stating: "The responsibility for this crime and for similar crimes lies with the Lebanese authorities and the Syrian authorities, as they are [Lebanon's] warden." According to them, "the crime was perpetrated following a series of threats voiced by top officials in the regime, while at the same time accusing the Shahid [former] prime minister [Al-Hariri] and the opposition members of treachery and conspiracy [against the regime]." [6]

Former prime minister and Lebanese army commander Michel 'Aoun told Radio France Info: "Syria is responsible for the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri, which constitutes a prelude to a long chain of attacks on Lebanese leaders opposed to Damascus." In another interview with Radio France Inter, he said, "The physical elimination of Damascus' opponents has become Syria's strategy. After it murdered Lebanese, it wants us to thank it for the help it has given us. Imagine the Nazis asking the World War II Jews to thank Germany for annihilating them…" [7]

Ali Hamada, columnist for the Lebanese Christian daily Al-Nahar, wrote: "Just as they assassinated Kamal Jumblatt and threw him bleeding into the streets, so they blew up half the city and assassinated Rafiq Al-Hariri, turning his body into burnt charcoal. This is the regime, and this is its logic from its beginnings: murder those in the opposition and burn the body of whoever dares to stand against it. A criminal, vengeful, and spiteful regime that is undeterred from intensifying the terrorism against independent, sovereign, and free people. Rafiq Al-Hariri, who fell as a martyr for the sake of independence, is not the first in the series of crimes and perhaps is not the last; thus it is necessary that his blood not be spilled in vain, and that Lebanon not be captive from here on, in the hands of this kind of mafia behavior." [8]

Other Arab Elements Accuse Syria

Also blaming Syria for the assassination were other elements in the Arab world. In an editorial the Kuwaiti Al-Watan daily stated: "If Syria is incapable of maintaining security in Lebanon – as these events indicate – it must depart immediately. That is, assuming that this explanation is correct. But if the explosions always hit opponents of the Syrian presence in Lebanon, this might mean that Syria bears the responsibility for these explosions – if not, is it due to chance alone that the victims of the explosions are its political enemies? In any event, Syria must leave Lebanon, as explanations such as the conflict with Israel or defense of Syria's or Lebanon's security are no longer valid." [9]

In addition, the editor-in-chief of the Egyptian government daily Akhbar Al-Yawm, Ibrahim Sa'dah, hinted in a February 19 article titled "They Assassinated Him and Went To His Funeral" that Syria was involved in the killing. [10]

Syria and Lebanon Deny Blame; Accuse Israel and U.S.

Syria and Lebanon rejected the accusations against them. In a telephone conversation, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad told his counterpart, Lebanese President Emil Lahoud, that "every effort must be made to expose the perpetrators of this foul crime and those who are behind it, whose aim is to undermine Lebanese national unity." [11]

Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlala said that Syria's accusers are "stupid, ignorant, or cannot see reality. Only an enemy of Lebanon could carry out such a deed, and Syria cannot be an enemy." According to him, "the assassination was carried out as part of the international pressure on Lebanon and Syria, the ultimate aim of which is to implement Israel's aggressive aspirations in the region." [12]

Lebanese Information Minister Elie Ferzli spoke with Lebanese media representatives on the "need to reduce commentary, analyses, and accusations so as to avoid civil war." [13] Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hamoud called on all sides "not to become embroiled in direct or indirect accusations and to oppose establishing an international investigative committee or any attempt to force any kind of oversight or international custodianship over Lebanon." [14]

Along with Syria's denial of accusations of involvement in Al-Hariri's assassination, Syrian officials pointed an accusing finger at Israel.

Syrian Defense Minister Hassan Turkemani said: "The only one to benefit is Israel, which does not want stability to prevail in Lebanon." [15]

Syrian commentator Jamal Barout told www.islamonline.net: "There is no doubt that the operation was carried out with a high level of security [expertise]. This recalls the methods of the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence apparatus, in order to cause shocks in the Arab [ranks]. The assassination attempt on former minister and MP Marwan Hamada and then the assassination of Al-Hariri serve Israel." [16]

Columnist Hassan M. Yousef wrote in the Syrian government daily Teshreen: "There are great forces – headed by the U.S. and the Zionist entity – interested in changing the face of the region. The U.S. wants to build a Greater Middle East… Everything that happened, beginning with the occupation of Iraq and including the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri, is an attempt to destroy what is known as the Arab homeland and to build what is desired – the so-called Greater Middle East…" [17]

Arab Papers Blame the U.S and Israel for Al-Hariri's Assassination

Some Arab newspaper columnists accused Israel and the U.S. of Al-Hariri's assassination. The editor-in-chief of the Egyptian government daily Al-Gumhouriyya, Samir Ragab, wrote: "Israel has struck twice in 48 hours … one strike in Lebanon and the other in Iran." [18]

An item titled "Who Benefits from Al-Hariri's Assassination?" in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat stated: "The first accusing finger is directed at Israel, since it is the perpetual beneficiary from the undermining of Lebanese stability and security. Except that Al-Hariri's disagreement with Damascus and his increasingly close relations with the [Lebanese] opposition, particularly with Walid Jumblatt, his ally, who demands that Syrian forces leave Lebanon, caused many Lebanese to accuse the Syrian regime of being the one behind his assassination…" [19]

In an article in the Al-Khaleej daily, Dr. Wisam Hamoud, a political commentator, accused Israel and the U.S. of perpetrating the crime, saying: "After assassinating Al-Hariri, the Israelis and Americans can claim that there is a worsening in the region's stability, and that there is a need for increasing democracy and for a new occupation. Thus, Al-Hariri's assassination, like many murders in Iraq, is an act of Israel's secret service apparatus, or of America's mercenaries hired to murder enlightened progressives in the Arab world and the Islamic world…" [20]

An editorial in the Qatari daily Al-Sharq said: "We all know that the Zionist enemy planned and is always planning to tear Lebanon to pieces and ignite the fire of sectarian war, along with the assassination of Lebanese national figures… Accordingly, it would not be strange for a Zionist hand to have carried out the abhorrent terrorist crime against Al-Hariri, in hopes of sowing divisiveness and civil war in Lebanon…

"The assassination of the [former] prime minister is one of the results of the earthquake of the American occupation of [our] sister[-country], Iraq, because this occupation, that realizes the Zionist will, strives to ignite future sectarian wars in the Arab nation, as is now happening in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon." [21]

Arab Progressives Criticize the Phenomenon of Blaming Israel

On the other hand, the Saudi government daily Al-Watan rejected the accusations against Israel: "What is Israel's interest in assassinating Al-Hariri, or in rekindling civil war in Lebanon…? Using Israel as an element on which to blame all our failures, missteps, and disappointments is a sad, stupid affair, because it is an escape from criticizing ourselves and admitting error and powerlessness." At the same time, the paper also rejected accusations against Syria: "The Syrian regime has its shortcomings, but stupidity is not one of them. There is no need for great cleverness to understand that Syria is one of the victims of the [assassination], and that the perpetrators of the assassination sought to cause tension in Lebanon and to turn the Security Council resolution requiring Syria's exit from Lebanon into an urgent and binding matter." [22]

Columnist Ihsan Al-Taraboulsi wrote on the progressive website www.elaph.com: "If only Allah would bless the Mossad and ['Abdallah] bin Saba, who have become the pretext for all the criminal murderers' crimes. [23] This morning 'Azmi Bishara, Israeli MP and ally of Syria, comes out to us with a declaration broadcast and welcomed by Al-Jazeera, in which he said that the Mossad agent 'Abdallah bin Saba is the murderer. If the Mossad or 'Abdallah bin Saba did not exist, we would have to create them ourselves so that we could blame all our crimes on them." [24]

Lebanese Opposition Declares 'Intifada of Independence'

The Lebanese opposition declared a "Nonviolent Intifada of Independence and Democracy." At a conference of Lebanese opposition heads that was held in the home of Walid Jumblatt, Christian opposition figure Samir Faranjiyya declared in the name of the opposition elements: "In response to the policy of crime and terror by the Lebanese and Syrian regimes, the Lebanese opposition declares the outbreak of the Nonviolent Intifada of Independence and Democracy, and calls for the following steps: A decisive demand for an international investigative committee under U.N auspices to expose the planners and perpetrators of the assassination crime and to bring them to trial… The removal of the illegitimate [Lebanese] regime and the establishment of a transitional government, as a supreme national need which will defend the Lebanese people and assure the immediate and full withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon and also prepare the way for free, clean parliamentary elections… A call to the Lebanese communities in all countries in the diaspora to support the Intifada of Independence by all possible means, political and financial, and also by means of activity and marches in front of the embassies and the headquarters of the legal and international organizations… A demand from the international community represented by the U.N. to defend the captive Lebanese people who are threatened with state terrorism…" [25]

During this meeting, Walid Jumblatt said: "The first step that the opposition is demanding is an international investigation outside the framework of the [Lebanese Syria] biased government, which we directly accuse of the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri, and of the attempted assassination of Marwan Hamada… When I lay the responsibility on Syria, I lay it on the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon that controls all areas of life: political, parliamentary, academic, administrative, military, as well as every [other] sphere." [26]

In response to the declaration of the Intifada of Independence, Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karameh said that he had "looked through the sections [of the declaration] and found it to be a plan for a coup against the state and against the government. We say: if this is politics, they can say whatever they wish, but with regard to security, no one can joke about the matter." With regard to the opposition demand for an international investigative committee, he said: "… this is for local pubic opinion purposes, and will not lead to any results. We say, let anyone who has information and can contribute to getting at the facts come forth." [27]

* C. Jacob is a Research Fellow for The Middle East Media Research Institute



[1] Al-Jazeera (Qatar), February 14, 2005, and video at http://memritv.org/clip/en/550.htm

[2] http://www.nnuu.org/vb/showthread.php?s=d209f9970a8c5d308935a2809349d92c&threadid=89. Currently offline.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 16, 2005.

[4] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), February 16, 2005.

[5] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), February 15, 2005.

[6] Al-Safir (Lebanon), February 15, 2005.

[7] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), February 16, 2005.

[8] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), February 15, 2005.

[9] Al-Watan (Kuwait), February 15, 2005.

[10] Akhbar Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 19, 2005.

[11] Al-Safir (Lebanon), February 15, 2005.

[12] Al-Safir (Lebanon), February 15, 2005.

[13] Al-Safir (Lebanon), February 15, 2005.

[14] Al-Safir (Lebanon), February 15, 2005.

[15] Al-Bayan (UAE), February 17, 2005.

[16] www.islamonline.net/arabic/news/2005-02/14/article07.shtml February 16, 2005.

[17] Teshreen (Syria), February 16, 2005.

[18] Al-Gumhouriyya (Egypt), February 17, 2005.

[19] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 15, 2005.

[20] Al-Khaleej (UAE), February 17, 2005.

[21] Al-Sharq (Qatar), February 17, 2004.

[22] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 17, 2005. Also, Jihad Al-Khazen, former editor of the London daily Al-Hayat, said in the same vein: "… it is not reasonable for President Bashar Al-Assad, an eye doctor whom I know well, to have approved any kind of assassination. Saddam Hussein is a murderer; Ariel Sharon is a murderer; but Bashar Al-Assad is not a murderer, and approves no murder… In every crime, one looks for the one who stands to benefit, as it is reasonable for him to have carried out the operation from which he benefits. Syria benefits from Al-Hariri's absence. [This is because] he was the main and most prominent element in the Lebanese opposition… Therefore it is logical for the accusing finger to be directed against Syria. "But there is another way of thinking about it, and it is that if Syria is accused and subjected to sanctions even before there is an investigation in the matter, then the beneficiary is the one who created [these accusations], and the only answer in this case is Israel. Although I do not accuse Israel of carrying out the crime in order to place the blame on Syria, I likewise do not accuse Syria of carrying out the crime in order to eliminate the Lebanese opposition." Al-Hayat (London), February 16, 2005.

[23] 'Abdallah bin Saba was a Jewish convert to Islam, who purportedly incited against the Third Caliph 'Uthman bin 'Afan andled to his murder.

[24] http://www.elaph.com/ElaphWriter/2005/2/41086.htm

[25] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 19, 2005.

[26] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 19, 2005.

[27] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), February 20, 2005.