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by Mark dameli
Saturday, Mar. 19, 2005 at 4:56 PM
British newspaper has claimed to have found "clear evidence" that Syria assassinated ex-premier Rafik Hariri in an attack that has plunged Lebanon into political chaos.
Two days before the popular politician was killed in a huge bomb blast on February 14, Hariri invited Druze leader Walid Jumblat to his Koreitem mansion where he had a warning for his old friend, The Times reported.
"He told me that in the next two weeks it was either going to be me or him," Jumblat told the newspaper. "Clearly he thought something was going to happen," he said.
Hariri did not have to wait long. But the explosion that killed him and 18 other people has continued to shake Lebanon over the past month and left Syria increasingly squeezed by the United States and its European allies to abandon Lebanon.
Damascus has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack, but The Times said it had unearthed "clear evidence that Syria assassinated Rafik Hariri" after interviewing at least a dozen Western, Lebanese and Syrian officials.
Hariri had angered the Syrian government by inspiring U.N. Security Council resolution 1559 http://www.lgic.org/en/help_1559.php demanding that Syria stop interfering in Lebanon, the newspaper said, noting that U.S. and U.N. officials had warned Damascus not to harm him.
The Lebanese government withdrew Hariri's 70-strong security detail under pressure from Syria and immediately after his death the scene of the bombing was swept to remove any evidence of Syrian complicity, The Times claimed.
"There does seem to be no other scenario," it quoted an anonymous, senior Western diplomat as saying.
Just four days before Hariri's murder, U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen met Syrian President Assad in Damascus, where he tried to persuade him to meet Hariri in a bid to resolve their differences, according to The Times.
"Larsen knew if there was no dialogue, it would end badly," an unnamed U.N. source told the newspaper.
That same night, Larsen met Hariri for dinner in Beirut and was told that the Lebanese politician was ready to talk to the Syrian leader.
"Two days later Mr. Hariri met Mr. Jumblat at his home, and correctly predicted his own death," The Times said.
The daily added that it had interviewed three Syrian ministers, all of whom denied that Damascus had any part in the killing.
"But none put forward a convincing alternative theory, even though Syria has a vast intelligence network in Lebanon that should by now have been able to trace the origin of the assassination team," it concluded.(AFP)
Beirut, Updated 18 Mar 05, 12:17
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