Remembering Lebanon - Mémoire du Liban

8/29/2005

Assad: 'No Syrian Officer Put a Gun to Hariri's Head. I Never Threatened Him'

"I never threatened him and no Syrian intelligence officer had ever pointed a gun to his head," says president Assad about the last meeting he held in Damascus with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in connection with a Syrian decision to extend President Lahoud's term in office by three extra years.
The Syrian president also made it plain that he has given the green light to U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis to question 5 Syrian officials face-to-face on the basis that Syria would be absolved from guilt. Otherwise, the verdict of the German prosecutor would be viewed as 'falsified' under western political pressure.

Two main sources reported that Assad did threaten Hariri in the Damascus meeting because Hariri argued against the Lahoud extension. The first was Walid Jumblat, Hariri's closest political ally, and Lara Marlow, the roving correspondent of Ireland's radio and television.

The Druze leader said Hariri had personally told him of the threat. "If you and Jumblat think that Chirac can get me out of Lebanon, I assure you that I will destroy Lebanon off the face of earth before I leave," Hariri said, according to Jumblat.

Lara Marlow said Hariri told her of Assad's threat a week before he was assassinated in a massive bombing attack that shredded his motorcade on a seaside Beirut boulevard Feb. 14. He had then resigned office in protest against the Lahoud extension, which was dictated virtually at gunpoint on the Lebanese Parliament by Syria's military intelligence apparatus.

"Mr. Hariri asked me in my last interview with him not to report his revelation of the Assad threat unless something happens to him," Marlow reported. "Now that he is killed, I am duty bound to disclose that Assad had made a life threat to Hariri before his assassination. Mr. Hariri told me about it."

Assad made his denial of the threat in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, the full text of which was published Monday, a day after the weekly made excerpts available to the international press, giving U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis, a Berlin prosecutor, the green light to interrogate face-to-face five senior Syrian officers in connection with the Hariri murder.

"Some had even said that I threatened him. Others maintained a security official put a gun to his head. This is ridiculous," Assad said.

"We are showing complete cooperation. We are interested in the investigation because we are convinced we will be cleared -- that is unless the results are falsified for political reasons," Assad said.

Asked whether he could really be sure that Syrian secret services or other compatriots were not involved, Assad said: "I am completely sure. Such an act would require the co-operation of many people and institutions. Had this been the case we would have known about it."

He said he had not attended Hariri's funeral because of the allegations that Syria engineered his murder.

"Why would Syria kill someone with whom there were no differences. That makes no sense. In actual fact we Syrians are the ones who have been the most disadvantaged by this affair," Assad said.
Assad pledged that Mehlis could speak with any Syrian he wanted to in his investigation, according to the interview.

"I have said that everyone with whom he wants to speak is permitted to give testimony. That is in my interest, and in the interest of Syria."(source Naharnet-AP)



Beirut, Updated 29 Aug 05, 10:22

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