Photo: Reuters
Syrian President Bashar Assad
Photo: Reuters
Photo: AFP
Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan
Photo: AFP

Rope on Syria’s neck getting tighter

Assad brushes off speculations that his country will be implicated in the assassination of Hariri

(VIDEO) Israeli reactions to the suicide of Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan cast doubts that the former head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon did in fact put an end to his life.


“He either committed suicide or they got rid of him,” political sources told Ynet.


Kenaan laid to rest (Video: Reuters)


Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom hoped that Kenaan’s assassination will not be a scapegoat for the sins of Syrian President Hafez Assad. “The Syrians feel that the rope is getting tighter around their necks,” said Shalom referring to the U.N. investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.


Shalom charged that the international investigators led by Detlev Mehlis have conclusive evidence against those implicated in Hariri’s killing. Hariri was killed in a truck bomb attack that ripped through his convoy in Beirut on February 14. The U.N. report is expected to be published on October 25.


“Syria is a state that supports and instigates terror, and is directly involved in the liquidation of Hariri,” Shalom asserted.


Kanaan's body was laid to rest in his northern home town in a low-key funeral on Thursday. He was the architect of Syria’s iron fist over Lebanon over the last 30 years and he established the cooperative ties between Hizbullah and Damascus, which facilitated the flow of Iranian arms to the Lebanese Shiite group --- a sworn enemy of Israel. In recognition of his work Kenaan was appointed to the prestigious post of interior minister, making him the de facto chief of Syria’s security agencies.


Kenaan was a close confident of former president Hafez Assad who died in 2000. He was a relative of Assad’s wife and he was put in charge of preparing Bashar for the presidency following the death of Assad’s eldest son, Basel.


“Kenaan planned Syria’s intelligence infrastructure in Lebanon,” Israeli officials said.

“He was involved in all the events that turned the accusation finger to Damascus. He conducted every move. If there is someone who knows the ins and outs of Syria’s involvement in Lebanon, it’s him. He was involved in everything,” the officials said.


Israeli officials said that suicide was the easiest option to get rid of kenaan because “if he would have opened his mouth a bit, the Syrian regime would have been in trouble.”


Recalling the 2002 assassination of Elie Hobeika, a Christian warlord who was connected with Syria’s intelligence apparatus in Lebanon, the officials said that whoever holds too much knowledge is a potential target.


“People who had connections with the Syrian intelligence services and knew too much experienced early death. It is difficult to believe that a man like Kenaan would voluntarily put an end to his life,” the officials said.


Assad: 'I wouldn't threaten anyone'


With only two weeks left until the publication of the much-anticipated U.N. investigative report on the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday brushed off speculations that his regime will be implicated in the explosion that ripped through the prime minister’s convoy in central Beirut on February 14.


In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who heaved a slew of bold questions at her interviewee, Assad charged that his country “is not involved in that crime” because this goes against his principles and interests.


“And from another perspective, Rafik al-Hariri was supportive of the Syrian role in Lebanon. He was never against Syria. So there is no logic in involving Syria or putting Syria's name to this crime. So far we are very confident. We received the investigation committee two weeks ago. We were very cooperative and we are more confident after those interviews they made in Syria that we are completely innocent, that Syria has nothing to do with this crime,” said Assad.


Hours after the interview, Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan, who ran Lebanon as Syria’s top security envoy until 2003, committed suicide.


"Interior Minister Brig. Gen. Ghazi Kenaan committed suicide in his office before noon,” the Syrian Arab News Agency reported. “Authorities are carrying out the necessary investigation into the incident."  


The news agency did not mention the U.N. investigation into the assassination of Hariri, which is due to issue its report by Oct. 25.


Hariri's assassination sparked anti-Syrian protests in Beirut and intensified international pressure on Damascus by the U.S., France and the U.N. to end its 29-year-old military presence in Lebanon and stop interfering in the affairs of its smaller neighbor.


Assad said that if the report implicates Syrian officials in the assassination, Syria will readily cooperate with the international community and hand over the suspects who “should be punished by the maximum penalty.”


As Assad refuted the possibility that his country could be implicated in Harir’s killing, Amanpour went as far as asking the president if he” could have ordered this assassination.”


“This is against our principles and my principles, and I would never do such a thing in my life,” Assad replied.


Asked about the truthfulness of testimonies by witnesses that Hariri was threatened by Assad on his last visit to Damascus, the Syrian president said “this is another illegal presumption. It is not my nature to threaten anybody. I am a very quiet person, I am very frank, but I wouldn't threaten anyone.”


He dismissed claims that Hariri was threatened for his refusal to back Syrian demands to extend the term of pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, saying that Hariri did in fact support the motion and “he helped Syria achieve the extension. So why harm him or kill him. There is no logic. But anyway I didn't do it and would never do it.”


Assad countered that Hariri’s son Saad, who led an anti-Syrian coalition to victory in the last Lebanese elections and is currently living in Paris for fears that he might have his father’s fate, or any other Lebanese who speak out against Syria, has nothing to fear from the Ba’athist regime.


“No, definitely not from Syria. Never. We don't have this history of assassination in Syria. So, they don't have to worry,” Assad said.


Following Syria’s withdrawal a spate of bomb attacks and assassinations took place in Lebanon, bringing back images of the civil war and raising fears of strife in the country. A leading news anchor for a major Lebanese television channel was the latest victim of such attacks, when a bomb planted in her car last week left her maimed.


Assad said that if the report finds his country is indeed involved in the orchestration of Hariri’s assassination Damascus’ level of cooperation will depend on the evidence. Is it credible evidence or a mere political game to isolate Syria?, he asked.


The Syrian president charged that Syria is central to solving most of the issues pertaining to the Middle East and therefore it is not in the interest of the international community to seek to isolate his country.


פרסום ראשון: 10.13.05, 22:14
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