Godfather of the Assad regime takes Rafik Hariri secrets to the grave

Abdul-Halim Khaddam died in Paris. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 April 2020

Godfather of the Assad regime takes Rafik Hariri secrets to the grave

  • Abdul-Halim Khaddam, dead at 88, warned Lebanese prime minister before 2005 assassination

PARIS: The warning from Abdul-Halim Khaddam to Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri was unequivocal: “Beware of these crazy people … they can harm you.”

As the man who served for 30 years in the upper echelons of the Syrian state under President Hafez Assad and then his son Bashar, Khaddam knew what he was talking about; in February 2005, Hariri was assassinated in Beirut by terrorists linked to the Syrian regime.

Khaddam, the former Syrian vice president who died from a heart attack early on Tuesday at the age of 88, recounted the story to Saad Hariri when the murdered man’s son visited him in his Paris residence a few months after the assassination.

In May 2015 Khaddam openly accused Hezbollah and Syrian regime members of the assassination. Officials from the tribunal investigating Hariri’s murder also visited Paris to question Khaddam.

For three decades in Syria, no one was closer to the Assad family than Khaddam, the Sunni Syrian Baathist from a middle-class family in the Mediterranean resort town of Baniyas.

Once seen as a possible successor to Hafez, instead he helped Bashar tighten his grip on power after he took office in June 2000.
In the days following the elder Assad’s death, Khaddam pushed through decrees elevating Bashar’s military rank to general and making him commander of the armed forces — key moves in the uncertain process of succession.
A lawyer by training, Khaddam was foreign minister for 14 years before becoming vice-president in 1984. He also took part in shaping Syrian policy in Lebanon. A former French ambassador to Syria, Jean Claude Cousseran, told Arab News Khaddam was the hard-line politician closest to Assad’s father, and a hard-liner also on the Lebanese question. Many Lebanese detested Khaddam because he represented the Syrian occupation and all its tragic consequences.

Yves Aubin de la Messuziere, another former French ambassador who headed the Middle East desk at the French Foreign Ministry, told Arab News he remembered Khaddam accompanying Bashar Assad on a state visit to Paris in 2000, when president Jacques Chirac had invited him after the death of his father.

De la Messuziere, an Arabist , recalled waiting in a side room of the Elysee Palace with an angry and impatient Khaddam while the two presidents had their one-to-one meeting. “Why is it taking so long, what are they doing?” he asked, in a loud voice.

In 2005, Khaddam was a vocal critic of both the Hariri assassination and Syria’s foreign policy in general, and he resigned from the Baath party.

Khaddam moved to Paris in December 2005, claiming that he needed medical treatment, and established a residence on the exclusive Avenue Foch, where his home was guarded round the clock by French police.

In 2011 he became one of the most prominent opponents of Bashar Assad and his war against his own people. From his Paris base, Khaddam tried to carve out a role in the opposition to Assad but struggled to win the trust of other dissidents because of his decades of work in the Baath party.
As the uprising continued, Khaddam said Syrians would have to take up arms in self-defense unless the world intervened to protect them, and he accused Assad and his family of instigating sectarian strife.

Khaddam’s presence in Paris was not popular with French public opinion, and criticized by many French officials who opposed his policy in Lebanon. Nevertheless, his vocal opposition to Bashar Assad had to some extent rehabilitated him.

Khaddam will be buried in France, where his funeral will be organized by the Paris municipality. His son Jihad is stranded in Turkey by the coronavirus pandemic, and his other son Jamal is recovering from open heart surgery in Paris.
 


Dozens wounded in clashes as hundreds of protesters flood Beirut

Updated 07 June 2020

Dozens wounded in clashes as hundreds of protesters flood Beirut

  • Hundreds filled the streets in and around the protest hub of Martyrs Square in the center of BeirutHundreds filled the streets in and around the protest hub of Martyrs Square in the center of Beirut
  • Soldiers moved in to restore order, said the state-run news agency ANI

BEIRUT: Protesters poured into the streets of the Lebanese capital Saturday to decry the collapse of the economy, as clashes erupted between supporters and opponents of the Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah.
Hundreds filled the streets in and around the protest hub of Martyrs Square in the center of Beirut, with skirmishes also between protesters and security forces, who fired tear gas.
Forty-eight were wounded in the violence, 11 of whom were hospitalized, while the rest were treated at the scene, the Lebanese Red Cross said.
It was the first major anti-government rally attracting demonstrators from across the country since authorities relaxed a lockdown imposed in mid-March to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
“We came on the streets to demand our rights, call for medical care, education, jobs and the basic rights that human beings need to stay alive,” said 21-year-old student Christina.
Many protesters wore face-masks as part of hygiene measures imposed to fight the pandemic, which has severely exacerbated an economic crisis, the worst since the debt-burdened country’s 1975-1990 civil war.
But Saturday’s protest turned violent as supporters of Hezbollah clashed with some demonstrators calling on the group to disarm.
Hezbollah is the only group to have kept its weapons since the end of the Lebanese civil war, deeply dividing Lebanon along political lines.


“Weapons should be only in the hands of the army,” said Sana, a 57-year-old female protester from Nabatiyeh, a city in southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold.
Soldiers formed a human chain separating the two sides after supporters and opponents of Hezbollah threw stones at each other, an AFP photographer said.
Supporters of Hezbollah, which is also represented in the government and parliament, chanted: “Shiite, Shiite.”
On Saturday evening, there was an exchange of gunfire between residents of a Sunni district, a stronghold of the former prime minister Saad Hariri, and a nearby Shiite neighborhood, a stronghold of the Amal party, a security source said.
Soldiers moved in to restore order, said the state-run news agency ANI.
There were clashes too in the northern city of Tripoli, an AFP correspondent there reported.
Security forces fired tear gas near a street leading into the parliament building behind Martyrs Square, after some demonstrators pelted them with stones and ransacked shops.
Some protesters set fire to garbage bins as riot police advanced toward them.
Lebanon has been rocked by a series of political crises in recent years, before an economic crunch helped trigger unprecedented cross-sectarian mass protests in October.
The demonstrations forced the government to resign and a new one headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab was approved by parliament in February, tasked with launching reforms and combatting corruption.
But many Lebanese say the new administration has failed to find solutions to the country’s manifold problems, including a grinding recession and spiralling inflation.
The local currency has lost more than half of its value on the black market in recent months, falling from the official rate of 1,507 to more than 4,000 pounds to the dollar. Banks have gradually stopped all dollar withdrawals.
A sign held aloft by protesters on Saturday called for “a government that eliminates corruption, not one that protects corruption.”
More than 35 percent of Lebanese are unemployed, while poverty has soared to engulf more than 45 percent of the population, according to official estimates.
Lebanon is also one of the world’s most indebted countries, with a debt equivalent to more than 170 percent of its GDP. The country defaulted on its external borrowing for the first time in March.
Diab’s government adopted an economic recovery plan in April and has begun negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, to try to unlock billions of dollars in aid.