Saniora before STL: Syria Promised us ‘New Lahoud’ if We Accepted Extension

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Saniora before STL: Syria Promised us ‘New Lahoud’ if We Accepted Extension
Naharnet/23.03.15

Head of the Mustaqbal bloc MP Fouad Saniora started on Monday giving his testimony at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, focusing on the ties between former Premier Rafik Hariri and the Syrian regime during the 1990s and early 2000s, as well as the influence the Syrian security apparatus wielded on Lebanon. He said before the trial chamber at The Hague: “The Syrian regime sought to extend the term of then President Emile Lahoud, promising us that a ‘new Lahoud’ would emerge in the aftermath of the constitutional amendment.” The debate over the extension of Lahoud’s term in 2004 was among the factors that led to the strain in ties between Hariri and the Syrian regime, headed by President Bashar Assad. His extension required a constitutional amendment in Lebanon, which Saniora said he opposed.

He said that Hariri received “the order to extend Lahoud’s term from Assad during a meeting in August 2004.” “Assad stated that Hariri would accept the extension or he would break Lebanon on his head,” said the former premier before the STL. Saniora revealed that he refused to attend a cabinet session two days later in August aimed at tackling the extension. “I received a telephone call from my wife and Wissam al-Hassan urging me to attend the session in order to avoid appearing that I was abandoning Hariri,” the MP revealed. He acquiesced to the demands in spite of his rejection, adding that the extension “almost made me retire from politics.”

“The Syrian intelligence pledged that we would be faced with a different Lahoud than the one we had to deal with so far if we accepted the extension,” he continued. “We however did not sense any change in his behaviour after the extension and Hariri contacted head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon Rustom Ghazaleh to address the issue,” said Saniora.  The head of the Mustaqbal bloc remarked that Hariri sought to reconstruct Lebanon and build a strong Lebanese state, which he said threatened the Syrian regime that aimed to maintain its grip over the country, This prompted it to wage campaigns against the slain premier aimed at tarnishing his image. This campaign was wielded by the Syrian security apparatus, as well as its Lebanese allies, Saniora explained. “Hariri had many enemies and whoever reviews the history at the time would realize very well who they were,” he stressed.

 “Lahoud had animosity towards Hariri, but he was not the only one,” he stated.  Saniora was then pressed by Trial Chamber Judge David Re to name officials that were pressuring Hariri, to which he replied: “Several officials were responsible and I cannot name them all.” He was then asked to name whom he thought were responsible to which Saniora responded that these officials include figures who were part of the security apparatus, as well as journalists and politicians. He was asked who the main source of the incitement against Hariri was, to which he replied: “There was deep cooperation between the Lebanese and Syrian apparatuses.” “The Syrian apparatus wielded more power over the Lebanese one, while the Lebanese apparatus had greater spite,” he revealed.
“Ghazaleh was head of the Syrian apparatus at the time, while Major General Jamil al-Sayyed was head of the Lebanese apparatus,” he explained. “Neither him nor Ghazaleh had animosity towards Hariri, but the respective apparatuses used them to their ends,” he stated.

“Ghazaleh wielded more power because he represented the Syrian side and he was the visible tool in Lebanon of the Syrian regime,” said Saniora. “Ghazaleh used to refer his reports on Lebanon to officials above him. I have not met them, nor do I wish to meet them, but I have heard of them. They are part of the circle just below Assad,” he remarked. Addressing the October 2004 assassination attempt against MP Marwan Hamadeh in 2004, Saniora stated: “Hariri believed that it was a message against him, but he still told all who warned him that they would never dare harm him.”

“I cannot identify who was behind the assassination attempt. I can say that it was a political stance and I can only wonder who was capable of such an act,” he continued. “Hariri believed that those responsible for the security system where behind the attempt against Hamadeh’s life, but he didn’t have any evidence,” noted the MP. “The attack against Hamadeh cannot be a random one, but given the circumstances at the time, it was aimed at intimidating us,” he explained. Earlier, Saniora had stated that “Hariri’s ties with late Syrian President Hafez Assad differed than those with President Bashar Assad.” He spoke of the “strong grip” the Syrian security apparatus had on the Lebanese government at the time, adding: “Nothing could be done without the regime’s approval.”
He gave an example of how he sought the nomination of current MP Ghazi Youssef as parliament speaker, but the regime opposed it.

The regime also rejected Youssef’s nomination in the 2000 parliamentary elections and wanted Hariri to name Hizbullah candidate Mohammed al-Berjawi on his list, revealed Saniora. Syria also wielded its influence in how Hariri formed his government in 1997, continued the MP. It sought to impose three ministers of its choice on the premier, but Hariri rejected the names.

He held a long meeting with Hafez Assad during that time in order to “explain to him that the political and security conditions at the time were not suitable for the appointment of those figures,” explained Saniora. “Hariri sought my appointment along with Bahij Tabbara and Samir al-Jisr instead,” he stated. “Efforts were being made to completely link Lebanon to Syria through the Syrian security apparatus and its Lebanese allies,” remarked head of the Mustaqbal bloc.

Earlier, Saniora had spoken of how he met Hariri, saying that they knew each other as acquaintances at the same school in the southern city of Sidon where they both hail from. They became closer when they joined the Arab Nationalist Movement in the early 1960s. “I enjoyed strong ties with Hariri and we always spoke frankly with each other,” added Saniora. “Hariri and I had common financial interests, but we were also concerned with the interests of the people and improving their daily lives, which was dear to the former premier,” he emphasized. “Hariri was keen on Lebanon and he sought to cooperate with me and several others to improve the country” in the wake of the 1975-90 civil war, he continued. The STL is tackling the assassination of Hariri in a major bombing in Beirut on February 14, 2005. It has so far indicted five Hizbullah members in the crime. It kicked off its trial in 2014 and has so far listened to the testimonies of several witnesses. Testimonies in 2015 have been focusing on the political aspect of the assassination and Hariri’s ties with Syria. A number of lawmakers and journalists have given their accounts on the matter.