Potential Hot Spots: Syria, Again

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December 15, 2005: The assassination of Lebanese politician and lawmaker Gebran Tueni on Monday, December 12th, is generally regarded as having been the work of Syrian agents. But in silencing the anti-Syrian activist, the Syrians may have shot themselves in the foot.

The fallout from the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in February had created a storm of protest, and a special UN investigation. Chief investigator Detlev Mehlis maintains that high ranking Syrian officials, including President Bashir Asad's brother and brother-in-law, were deeply involved in the murder of Hariri. But last week, Mehlis' investigation had begun to fray at the edges, as one of the prime witnesses recanted his testimony. Had the Syrians laid low, the furor over Hariri's death might well have dissipated. Instead, someone in Syria decided to kill Tueni. Just who is uncertain.

Thought likely to be numbered among the "usual suspects", it's possible that President Bashir and his inner circle may not have been responsible for Tueni's death. There's a lot of political infighting going on in Syria between hard-line Baathists, seeking a more or less totalitarian regime, and a "reform" wing of the party, apparently led by Asad, that merely seeks an authoritarian regime.

The Syrian government has issued a statement that Tueni was killed by Israeli agents. While Arabs are accustomed to blaming Israel for everything and anything, including poor rainfall, Syria's charge seems not to have been taken seriously in Lebanon; large crowds attending Tueni's funeral on Tuesday chanted "We want your head, Bashir!" and other anti-Syrian slogans.
Meanwhile, Asad is still walking a tight rope in the global war on terrorism. Syrian military patrols have reportedly engaged in several fire fights with terrorists seeking cross into Iraq. At the same time, Asad has been issuing arms to tribesmen along the long frontier, in the even that Iraqi or Coalition forces decide to carry the war into Syria.

 

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