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World Opinion Roundup by Jefferson Morley

Who Killed Rafiq Hariri?

Speculation Focuses on Syria and Its Surrogates

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff
Wednesday, February 16, 2005; 1:43 PM

The assassins may have had sophisticated electronic gear. They knew former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri's motorcade was traveling along Beirut's fashionable Corniche seafront. They had 600 pounds of explosives.

So who detonated the explosion that killed Hariri and 13 other people?

_____From Beirut_____
Photo Gallery: Thousands marched through Beirut to mourn the loss of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
Video: Hariri's funeral becomes an anti-Syria rally in the streets of Beirut.
Video: Scene from downtown Beirut immediately following the blast.
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The facts about who was behind the assassination are scarce, but speculation is not. The chief suspect in the Mideast online media is Syria or its allies in Lebanon. Syria, which has 14,000 troops stationed in Lebanon, has vigorously denied the charge. In condemning the crime, senior officials quoted by the government-controlled Syria Times suggested "the Arabs' enemies" killed Hariri and some Iranian commentators charged Israel's foreign intelligence service, the Mossad, was involved.

Hariri's allies in the Lebanese opposition wasted no time in making unusually direct accusations against Syria, according to the Daily Star. Lebanese security officials told the Beirut daily that initial indications pointed to a suicide bomber.

The day before he died, Hariri said he was not afraid of being assassinated, reports Rosana Bou Monsef of the Daily Star.

In an interview on Sunday, Bou Monsef said she asked Hariri if fear of being killed explained his decision not to publicly oppose Syria's demands last fall to extend the term of Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud. Hariri resigned as prime minister to protest Syria's involvement in Lebanon's affairs, but did not vote in parliament against the extension of Lahoud's term.

"No, I did not fear assassination," he reportedly said.

Islam Online, a news site in the United Arab Emirates, said most Middle East pundits see three possible scenarios:

1) The bombing was "a strong message" to the Lebanese opposition for supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution, sponsored by the United States and France, calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

2) "Israel and other foreign powers backing the UN resolution" orchestrated the blast seeking "to force Damascus to pull out troops from Lebanon." A Palestinian militant was quoted as saying, "this crime plays well into the hands of Israel." The charge was also made by the Tehran Times and the Mehr News Agency, Iranian news outlets supportive of that country's hard-line leadership.

3) The bomb was the work of unspecified persons seeking "to stir a wave of public panic to press for the disarming of resistance factions, chiefly Hizbullah," the Shiite political party whose militia has a strong presence in southern Lebanon.

"Lebanon's many political killings have rarely been properly explained," notes the Financial Times, "but Syria has been suspected of being responsible for a number of high-profile assassinations, including that of Kamal Jumblatt, the Druze leader, in 1977, and of Bashir Gemayel, the Israeli-allied president-elect, in 1982."

"Many also detected the hand of Damascus in the bomb last October that badly wounded Marwan Hamade, an ally of Mr. Hariri who on Monday accused Syria of his murder," the London daily said.

In Israel, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told a group of soldiers at a military base near the Lebanese border that the assassination of Hariri was the work of a pro-Syrian "terror organization which from what we know is apparently supported by the Syrians," according to the Jerusalem Post.

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