By Sana Abdallah and Agency Dispatches
CAIRO – Lebanese lawmaker Saad Hariri claimed Tuesday that he had evidence of a Syrian plot to assassinate Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and himself, reviving Lebanon’s anti-Syrian camp’s accusations that Damascus still aimed to eliminate its Beirut critics before they could reach a parliamentary consensus on the next president.
In response to a question on alleged assassination plots against Lebanese politicians by Syrian President Al Bashar Al Assad’s brother-in-law and head of intelligence Assef Shawkat, Hariri said: "We have intelligence information about this and we are following it up."
Hariri, who heads the parliamentary majority, told a news conference in Cairo after holding talks with Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak that "this intelligence is correct and our security services are working on it."
A source close to Hariri’s March 14 Coalition, who requested anonymity, told The Middle East Times that the Lebanese authorities had gathered evidence of booby-trapped cars being prepared to be planted on the road leading to Hariri’s Beirut residence, intended to target Siniora’s convoy. He added that some of these vehicles had been found and the evidence contained recorded communication on this matter.
The source, however, refused to elaborate further, insisting the authorities would reveal the details "at the right time."
Since the February 2005 assassination of his father – former prime minister Rafik Hariri – in a powerful bomb explosion in Beirut, Saad Hariri, together with what has become known as the pro-Western March 14 Coalition, has been pointing the finger at the Syrian regime in connection with a series of attempted and successful assassinations that have followed the late premier’s murder. Such violence includes the assassinations of five prominent politicians, tagged as anti-Syrian.
Four top Lebanese officers working under the "Syrian reign" were detained by the Lebanese authorities on suspicion of involvement in Hariri’s assassination and remain in jail. But no one has been arrested in connection with the ensuing killings, as a UN inquiry into Hariri’s murder has yet to specifically name suspects to be tried by an international court.
While the Hariri slaying led to the eventual Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in Apirl 2005 after massive domestic and international pressure, many Lebanese believe Damascus is still attempting to keep a political grip on the country through such targeted killings and supporting Lebanon’s anti-Western political scene.
But the anti-Western forces, characterized as "pro-Syrian," are very critical of pointing the finger at Damascus whenever a car bomb explodes, saying Israel had more interest in destabilizing the country by igniting another civil war than the Syrians did, who have, themselves, sharply rejected such accusations.
Lebanese and Arab analysts warn that Lebanon has become a playground for regional and international forces in a cold war between Israel, the US, and the West, on one the one hand, and Iran and Syria on the other.
Independent Arab commentators say that with the US-led Western pressure growing on Syria – which is seen as a "rogue" state – the last thing the country needed was to implicate itself in political assassinations that would only help consolidate the anti-Syrian campaign.
"It is mind-boggling to imagine a country, which has managed to survive amid the incalculable hostility stemming from across all its borders, being so foolish as to carry out such ludicrous crimes with such harmful consequences at such a critical time," Palestinian-American analyst Ramzy Baroud recently wrote in several publications.
"Despite Lebanon’s value in the Middle East’s ongoing Cold War, Syria, like any other regime under threat, should be less concerned about dominating a smaller neighbor than in securing its own survival."
Fearing assassination, members of the anti-Syrian alliance in Siniora’s cabinet have been living at the compound housing the prime minister’s office under very tight security. In addition, many March 14 Coalition lawmakers have chosen to live abroad for the time being, and those who have remained in Lebanon either live in Beirut’s hotels or at their homes under heavy security measures.
Meanwhile, Saad Hariri said in Cairo that Arab security services, which he did not name, were helping the Lebanese authorities foil assassination attempts as the country’s rival politicians endeavored to reach agreement on a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud next month.
The anti-Syrian camp charges that the Damascus regime is trying to eliminate its parliamentary majority, which Hariri heads, to influence the presidential election.
Parliament is due to meet November 12 to choose the head-of-state, after the House postponed two scheduled voting sessions to allow the rivals time to reach a consensus on a new president.
Hariri said that Mubarak had promised to help prevent: "any Arab or foreign interference in the Lebanese presidential election, or anything that might prejudice the stability of Lebanon."
Syria has denied any interference in the Lebanese election of their president, but said it would prefer one who would seek friendly ties between the neighbors, not one who would incite further Western pressure on Damascus.
(Middle East Times, Egypt – Oct 30, 2007)