MP Ghazi Youssef told The STL Hariri was worried Syria was undermining Taif

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MP: Hariri was worried Syria was undermining Taif
Elise Knutsen/The Daily Star/Mar. 13, 2015

BEIRUT: Prior to his assassination, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was worried that pro-Syrian elements in Lebanon and the Syrian regime were trying to undermine the Taif agreement, MP Ghazi Youssef told The Special Tribunal for Lebanon Thursday.

The court analyzed a taped recording of a lunch between newspaperman Charles Ayoub, Rafik Hariri and Rustom Ghazaleh, Syria’s top intelligence officer in Lebanon at the time. Over the meal, the subject of a new election law, which Hariri suspected Ghazaleh and the Syrian regime were advancing, was repeatedly broached.

The would-be election law, which was supported by Christians and pro-Syrian elements in the Lebanese government, proposed that qadas make up electoral districts. The Taif agreement, however, clearly stipulates governorates should form electoral districts.

The Taif agreement – which put an end to the 1975-1990 Civil War – also justified Syria’s presence in Lebanon, Hariri reminded Ghazaleh.

“Why do you want to eliminate the Taif accord with a new electoral law,” Hariri asked Ghazaleh, also known as Abu Ahmad, at the lunch meeting in January 2005.

In court Thursday, Youssef interpreted what he thought Hariri intended to convey to Ghazaleh. “Prime Minister Hariri is trying to force Abu Ahmad to tell him that in [the Lebanon and Syria relationship], the most important aspect is the Taif,” Youssef said.

“He knew that elections that would result from that [proposed] election law would not be beneficial for Lebanon.”

Hariri also informed Ghazaleh he could calm political opponents by adhering to the Taif agreement.

“I’m giving you a piece of advice: with Taif you can muzzle any son of a bitch who will open his mouth,” Hariri told him.

Later in the meal, Hariri offered Ghazaleh another piece of advice: to refer the assassination attempt on Marwan Hamade’s life to the Judicial Council.

In the months following the incident, Youssef told the court, the Syrians had rejected attempts to consign the case to Lebanon’s Judicial Council.

Hariri suggested that referring the case to the Judicial Council would send a “very important signal” to the public that neither Lebanese nor Syrian officials were involved in the attack.

When Ghazaleh questioned the importance of transferring the case, Hariri took a stern tone.

“As soon as we’re finished eating, and while we’re drinking coffee, you will call [Justice Minister] Adnan Adoum and tell him to refer this to the Judicial Council and call the president and the prime minister.”

“He wanted justice to be done,” Youssef told the court.

After Ghazaleh quizzed Hariri on which Christian politicians he was in contact with, the two said goodbye.

“We cannot be enemies, we can only be brothers,” Ghazaleh told Hariri as they parted.

“It’s not you who is telling me this, it’s me telling you,” Hariri retorted.

“I swear by your life Mr. prime minister,” Ghazaleh said.

Less than five weeks after the lunch rendezvous, Hariri would be killed in a massive car bomb, which tore through Downtown Beirut. Ghazaleh would emerge as a central figure in the investigation.

Five Hezbollah suspects have been charged in absentia for the murder but the prosecution has suggested that key Syrian officials may have had reason to want Hariri dead.