Former Syrian VP says Hariri threatened
Updated: 2005-12-31 08:48
Former Syrian Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam, a one-time stalwart of the
ruling Baath Party, said on Friday that former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri was
threatened by Syria months before he was assassinated.
Khaddam made the claim as he declared a formal break with President Bashar
Assad in a television interview from Paris, criticizing the government and
citing corruption and its failure to reform.
"Hariri was subjected to many threats from Syria. ...Serious things were
said. Once he was summoned to Damascus ... and spoken to in extremely harsh
words by President Bashar Assad," Khaddam said in the interview with Al-Arabiya,
the pan-Arab satellite broadcaster, his first since he left Syria several months
A U.N. probe into Hariri's killing has implicated Syria, but Damascus has
denied the allegations.
Khaddam became a Syrian vice
president in 1984 and resigned in June. He was the nominal leader in Syria for a
short period after Assad's father, Hafez Assad, died in June 2000.
Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam
speaks to reporters at a news conference on Monday, Nov. 17, 2003 in
In the interview, Khaddam was bitterly critical of the current Assad
government, saying the ruling Baath Party and other popular organizations had
been reduced to vindicating "decisions made by the president."
He claimed to have left his homeland on good terms with Assad. "There are
differences in opinions, but there was mutual respect," he said, adding that his
family was with him in Paris where he was writing a memoir. He denied that he
had been threatened and said he would return to Syria.
Nevertheless, he charged, the Syrian leadership had made many mistakes.
He quoted the Syrian president as telling Hariri, months before he was
killed: "You want to bring a (new) president in Lebanon. ... I will not allow
that. I will crush whoever attempts to overturn our decision."
Syria had dictated an extension of the presidential term of pro-Syrian
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, which Hariri opposed. The move provoked a
political crisis in Syria's tiny Mediterranean neighbor.
After the warning from Assad, Hariri left with "high blood pressure and his
nose bleeding," Khaddam said.
Khaddam, however, said he was not accusing Syria of complicity in Hariri's
Feb. 14 assassination in a massive truck bombing that killed 20 others on a
He said uncovering the guilty parties was a matter for the U.N. commission
investigating the murder.
Lebanese politicians told the U.N. commission they had been told Assad
threatened to "break Lebanon" over Hariri's head if he did not support Damascus'
decision to extend the Lahoud presidency.
A file photo shows the site of the explosion
which killed former Lebanese Premier Rafiq Hariri, in central Beirut, 14
February 2005. [AFP/file]
In Syria, government officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
But pro-government observers were quick to criticize Khaddam's disclosures.
"It is strange that he's criticizing government behavior when he was part of
it," said George Jabbour, a legislator for the Baath party. "Why now? ... And
how an official who dedicated his life to his country makes these statements?"
asked political analyst Ahmed Haj Ali.
Under intense international pressure and after massive anti-Syrian
demonstrations in Damascus, Syria pulled its troops out of Lebanon this summer
after entering the country in 1976 as a stabilizing force early in the country's