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Mehlis Report II

The collision course of events continued as another anti-Syrian Lebanese was assassinated on the same day that Detlev Mehlis submitted his second written report to the UN Security Council on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The report further implicated Syria with fresh evidence from new witnesses and confessions that Syrian intelligence had burned documents related to the bombing that killed Hariri.

Gebran Tueni, an anti-Syrian Minister of the Lebanese Parliament and a journalist who ran the An-Nahar newspaper, was killed when, reminiscent of the Hariri murder, a bomb was detonated near his convoy. Three others were also killed in the blast. Tueni had just returned from Paris, where he had been living for several months for fear he might be assassinated by Syrian agents. That fear seems to have been well founded as suspicion has fallen on Syria for the latest in a long string of bombings and attacks on anti-Syrian journalists, politicians and public figures in Lebanon. The Lebanese government has called on the UN to forma a separate independent international investigation of the murders and attempted murders.

Many may not be aware of him, but this is an interesting glimpse at who Gibran Tueni was:

Al-Nahar was established by his grandfather in 1933. His father, Ghassan Tueni, ran the newspaper for decades, served in parliament, the cabinet, and represented Lebanon at the United Nations. Tueni was instilled with the principle of sectarian tolerance at an early age due to the intermarriage of his parents (his father was a Christian, his mother a Druze), which was virtually unheard of at that time. At age 18, he came to experience the horror of sectarian intolerance with the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1976—he was shot in the legs by Palestinian guerrillas later that year and kidnapped for 36 hours by Christian militiamen the following year.

At the UN, Detlev Mehlis’ second report by the UNIIIC on the February 2005 Rafik Hariri assassination has been delivered to the UN Security Council, which has the power to impose heavy economic sanctions on Syria. It has threatened to do just that if Syria fails to cooperate. To that effect, Mehlis’ second report lays into Syria for not only lack of cooperation, but for stalling, obstructing and obfuscating through contradictory testimony. The investigation has added new evidence further implicating Syria in the assassination.

Detlev Mehlis, the leader of the inquiry, said in his second report to the Security Council on the February killing that his investigation had gathered a wealth of new and specific evidence.

His report said the information “points directly at perpetrators, sponsors and organizers of an organized operation aiming at killing Mr. Hariri, including the recruitment of special agents by the Lebanese and Syrian intelligence services, handling of improvised explosive devices, a pattern of threats against targeted individuals and planning of other criminal activities.”

Mr. Mehlis said that investigators had been continually slowed by “arduous discussions and considerable delay due to procedural maneuvering and sometimes contradictory feedback from the Syrian authorities.”

Mehlis, who will not continue to lead the investigation, is due to personally address and brief the Security Council Tuesday. There will likely be no sanctions imposed on Syria for some time, as Mehlis is asking that the investigation be extended by at least six months. His replacement for that extension, certain to be granted, has yet to be appointed.

The new report fingers 19 individuals suspected of being directly involved in the planning and/or execution of the Hariri bombing. Four senior Lebanese intelligence officers remain in custody and Mehlis’ report demands that Syria detain the five Syrian officials previously interviewed at the UN offices in Vienna. The report also demands the detention of a sixth unnamed individual who was not interviewed in Vienna, expected to be Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, head of Syrian intelligence.

It complained that Damascus was trying to cast doubt on the investigation’s findings, and said it had asked to interview a sixth Syrian official, also considered a suspect, but that session had to be postponed.

“This was, at the least, an attempt to hinder the investigation internally and procedurally,” it said.

It appears that the Syrian obstruction has paid off handsomely in the short term for Assad, regardless of how it is condemned in the report and regardless of any new investigations into the rash of murders of anti-Syrian officials since Hariri’s assassination. With a six-month extension to the investigation nearly certain to be approved, Bashar Assad now has that added time to wiggle from beneath the imposing weight of the Security Council. He may now find time for the ‘secret peace talks with Israel’ that he previously denied having, even if any such talks do end up being for public consumption only.

(Courtesy of the BBC, the Full 10Dec05 Mehlis Report.)

Feedback

I listened to about 25 minutes of last night's Voice of Lebanon broadcast, and it was literally overwelming. VOL is usually pretty cut and dried, not at all demogogic, but the outrage was overwhelming. Beyond pure fury, the main point was that Tueni was a symbol of the free press in Lebanon, and Syria was trying to destroy it. I can't believe how stupid the leadership in Syria is, how they could not forsee how this would make everyone in Lebanon not their puppet just hate them all the more. Everyone in the country other than some of the Shia is against Syria now.

In regard to your point about Syrian obstruction having paid off, I think this is much more to do with the haplessness of the UN Security Council than anything Syria has done. Collective security only works where the interests of everyone involved are the same. Here, no one will defend what Syria is doing, but Russia and China are not even the slightest bit interested in setting a precedent for the interrogation of security officials. Granted that Lebanon is a sovereign country while Chechnya and Tibet etc. are not, the analogy is too close. Many Chechnyans, indeed many non-Chechnyan observers of that conflict, viewed Aslan Maskhadov the way Lebanese viewed Hariri.

Finally, in regard to Syrian "peace initiatives," I don't think this has gotten much play in the English media but at the Med. Summit a couple of weeks ago Syria "gave" the Sheba Farms to Lebanon. The Sheba, for those who don't know, is the area in the southern Lebanon area currently occupied by Israel, occupied by Syria until 1967, and previously disputed by Syria and Lebanon. It is the remaining bone of contention between Israel and Lebanon. The timing of this "gift" was certainly not a coincidence, although any goodwill they earned thereby is gone now.