Hamadeh Testifies at STL over Syria Complicity
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon heard on Monday the testimony of Shouf MP Marwan Hamadeh in the Feb. 2005 assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri, at the start of evidence provided by Lebanese politicians and influential figures on Syria's alleged complicity in the killing.
Hamadeh said Hariri played a major role in the negotiations that led to the adoption of the Taef Accord in 1989. But the agreement “wasn't enforced because of political conflicts.”
“The government was to remain the sole security entity and was due to implement a new modern election law,” he told the court.
“Hariri tried many times to implement the different provisions of the agreement,” the MP said in response to a question by senior prosecution counsel Graham Cameron.
The Taef agreement allowed Syria to play a “supporting role” in Lebanon. But instead of seeing this role diminish, it (Damascus) became a “true tutelage,” said Hamadeh.
“Syrians participated in all decisions including the nomination of ordinary civil servants,” he added.
He also explained how Syria sought to impose its influence over Lebanon's political, financial, and economic sectors.
He said that Lebanese officials were hoping to eventually gain financial independence from Syria after the end of the Lebanese civil war, noting that ties with the country's regime deteriorated with the arrival of Syrian President Bashar Assad to power in 2000.
“We were hoping for openness towards democracy in Syria that would positively affect Lebanon, but this was not achieved,” he lamented.
The deterioration was marked with Syria's growing influence in Lebanon.
Hamadeh recounted how in April 2003 Hariri had received a message from the Syrian leadership, through head of Syrian head of intelligence in Lebanon Rustom Ghazali, ordering him to introduce a cabinet amendment overnight.
The MP said that the late premier was ordered to make the amendment overnight, adding that such short notice requests were normal.
“Hariri refused to resign following the amendment request, preferring instead to confront Syria's influence through parliamentary elections,” revealed Hamadeh.
Another sign of Syria's growing power in Lebanon was the closure of MTV in 2002 over “allegations that it was harming national unity.”
“Any voice that spoke out against Syria was considered to be harmful to national unity,” Hamadeh explained.
Hamadeh, who was the victim of an assassination attempt in Oct. 2004, is expected to testify for three to four days.
In addition to the lawmaker, other officials and journalists who were close to Hariri, will testify in court on the former PM's deteriorating ties with Syria, the neighboring country's increasing resolve to have more influence on Lebanon's internal affairs and growing concerns by the international community regarding the foreign political pressure exerted on Lebanon.
The STL, which is based in The Hague, will also hear the evolution of the opposition movement in Lebanon in Sept. 2004, of which Hariri was first silent and then went public. And finally Hariri's influence as a statesman.
His “deteriorating ties with Syria makes the evidence more explicable,” the Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber, Judge David Re, said ahead of Hamadeh's testimony.
In the immediate aftermath of the former prime minister's assassination in a suicide truck bombing in Beirut, suspicion fell on Syria, since Hariri had been seeking to weaken its domination of Lebanon.
Syria has denied any role in the murder, but the killing galvanized opposition to Damascus and led to huge street demonstrations dubbed the "Cedar Revolution,” which forced the exit of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
Hamadeh had a leading role along with other politicians from the March 14 alliance in organizing the rallies.
The attack was initially blamed on pro-Syrian Lebanese generals. But the court in 2011 issued arrest warrants against Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi and Assad Sabra, all Hizbullah members.
A fifth suspect and also a Hizbullah member, Hassan Habib Merhi, was indicted in 2013 and his case was joined to the current trial this year.
The party has denied responsibility for the attack, and its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has dismissed the tribunal as a U.S.-Israeli conspiracy.
"No Lebanese government will be able to make any arrests whether in 30 days, 30 years or even 300 years," he said in a defiant speech in 2011.