In War Crisis, Hizballah, Palestinians, Poised to Line up behind Pro-Syrian Lebanese Government
(See earlier Exclusive Analysis:
Syrian Military Intelligence Eliminates Hariri and Reform Hopes for Lebanon)
Just hours after former prime minister Rafiq Hariri was murdered in a massive car bomb explosion outside the five-star Saint Georges Hotel on Beirut’s seafront Monday, February 14, enraged Lebanese Muslim, Christian, Druse opposition leaders declared the pro-Syrian Karame government illegal, demanded its resignation and pointed the finger of blame at Damascus. First riots erupted in Beirut and Hariri’s home town of Sidon.
French president Jacques Chirac, a close friend of the dead Lebanese politician, bluntly accused Syria and its Lebanese stooges of orchestrating his assassination and demanded an immediate international probe.
As the opposition begins to fight back for the brutal slaying, the whiff of war hangs over the country that was wracked for 15 years by civil bloodshed up until 1991. The dead leader, who made billions as a building contractor in Saudi Arabia, did more than any other to rebuild the ravaged country and restore it to normal life under a Sunni Muslim prime minister, Shiite parliament speaker and Christian president.
debkafile‘s Beirut sources report that anti-government leaders have begun discussing appointing Hariri’s sister Bahaya in his place as their joint candidate for ruler of the country. Her power base is the town of Sidon in the south, the Sunni Muslim Hariri clan’s home town where Rafiq was born. Monday night, Sunni Muslim militias took control of Sidon and cut off its main road link to Beirut. This step pre-empted the deployment of the Lebanese army and security forces which had been swiftly mobilized and posted at key points in the capital and across the country.
An anti-government general strike was declared for Tuesday.
Wednesday, Hariri will be laid to rest. Government representatives have been barred from attending the funeral.
Syrian troops were ordered to stay in their barracks for the time being.
debkafile‘s Middle East sources report: If hostilities erupt and the government looks liking falling, these troops, some 13,000, will be called out. The Hizballah and Palestinians will back them alongside pro-government Lebanese troops to shield the Syrian presence in Lebanon against the fury of opposition Christian and Druse militias backed by pro-Hariri Sunni loyalists from the south.
If such a full-blown crisis develops, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will face the dilemma of having to decide which side the Palestinian Authority supports: the anti-US, pro-Syrian coalition, accused of a terrorist act against a leading pro-Western politician, or the opposition forces ranged against that line-up. In the latter case, he risks losing even more ground with the Hamas, Jihad Islami, al Aqsa Brigades and Palestinian “Fronts” which will sympathize with the Lebanese factions supporting Damascus. If he opts for the former, he breaks loose from the reconciliation process begun at Sharm el Sheikh on February 8.