Tuesday, February 15, 2005

From blog member Samer al-Batal

Former Lebanese prime minister Rafeeq il-Hareeri assassinated
Samer wrote all of the following: This was carried out by technically sophisticated professionals and was well organised. The explosion was tremendous, creating a crater metres deep and metres wide due to an estimated hundreds of kilograms of explosives being used.

This is very serious news for the country, and for Syria as well. First and foremost, I make an earnest request to blog readers to pray for Lebanon, as this assassination crosses all red lines and, I'm afraid to say, can only mark the start of an escalating deterioration of stability in the country, as the strength and outrage of the opposition makes clear. The army is now on full alert, and both the French president and the Lebanese opposition in the person of MP Bassem Sabaa have called for an international investigation, with the latter holding the Syrian and Lebanese governments (the latter is seen by many Lebanese as an extension of the former) responsible for Hareeri's death.

People have to understand the man of power, influence, achievement, and longevity (about ten years as prime minister – most of the post-war years), that Mr. Hareeri was on the public stage for so long a time. Lebanon was a land of political assassinations during the war, but with much fewer occurences following its conclusion. Despite this history, I don't think anyone expected Hareeri of all individuals to fall as the primary target of the most serious assassination operation since the years of civil conflict. It is a very shocking event; to quote from the Christian Science Monitor:

"Hariri was the most visible, most influential Lebanese figure around the world," says Farid Khazen, professor of politics at the American University of Beirut. "It's the first major peacetime political assassination. This is as far as you can go when you target someone of Hariri's stature. This has broken taboos."
People are trumpeting about the threat of a new civil war. I personally do not think this is very exaggerated. After this travesty of an act, the country can only find itself in a state approaching such. A difficult period lies ahead.

It is natural that most are considering Syria to be the likely culprit. A group, never heard of until now, has claimed responsibility in footage from al-Jazeera, suggesting a motive resulting from Hareeri's famous Saudi connexions. It is too outlandish, and the timing of the act, committed at a time when pressure on Syria had been mounting and threats against it rising, after Hareeri had joined the opposition bloc, and in anticipation of the coming parliamentary elections and the former prime minister's future role in them hints at an operation that was planned precisely because of the international and domestic political situations that have arisen.

That Syria may have a role in this or is even the likeliest suspect is not at all unusual, but it still begs the question: why would Syria commit an act that would only result in disastrous consequences and serious harm to itself? Washington would (and will) certainly use this incident to its own advantage, and Syria would court the threat of an even more solid opposition and the danger of outside force and the world's condemnation. But no matter who the guilty party is, it is Syria that inevitably will bear the responsibility of what happened. There are other parties and groups that could be suspect, and right now things are not fully clear. Syria's blunder in extending President Lah'houd's term and antagonising the Lebanese had unfortunately triggered a domino effect that has cost it more than what must have been expected. Thanks to the events and results that have followed since, the passing of a UN resolution against Syria with backing by the French, a more vocal Lebanese opposition with strong statements made by important people such as Mr Waleed Jumblaat and enjoying support by the late prime minister, and the resignation of members of government, Hareeri's death will now hit back at Syria with much more force. The Americans will be more emboldened in threatening Syria and taking action, following their policy of interventionism.

Below are important entries and some professional commentary from Syria Comment:

Syrian reactions to Hariri’s assassination

NY Times, White House and press-secretary interview

The Lebanese battleground

Again, please offer fervent prayers for peace in the region and in Lebanon.

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