11/10/2005, 00.00
SYRIA – LEBANON
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Fear and disappointment in Lebanon over Assad's bitter words

by Youssef Hourany
Syrian President's attitude—open to the international community, harsh towards Lebanon—is worrying people.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Reactions among Lebanese political leaders to President Bashar Assad's speech at Damascus University have been harsh and one of profound disappointment.

The situation is such that Beirut streets are largely deserted because people are fearful as to what might happen from the strong international pressures on Syria.

Peppered with slogans such as "Those who denounce Syria are enemies of the Arabs" and "Those who accuse Syria of responsibility in the Hariri assassination are friends of Israel", Assad's speech appears to be an attempt to avoid UN accusations that Syria and its government were trying not to cooperate with the international commission headed by Detlev Mehlis, who, in his first report, blamed the Syrian secret services and members of the Assad family for the murder of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In the speech, Assad pledged his country's cooperation with the UN inquiry but several times insisted that he was "almost certain" that Syria was blameless in the Hariri affair.

In Lebanon, several political leaders—including Rafik Hariri's son, Saad; Druze leader Walid Jumblatt; Phalange leader Amin Gemayel; and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea—said that with Assad's speech, the slain leader was assassinated a second time.  They had expected him to be more flexible rather than intransigent towards Syria's accusers, whom he called "merchants of Hariri's blood".

The leaders underscored how Assad's speech was "cautious vis-à-vis the international community but violently anti-Lebanese and anti-Lebanon, the weakest country in the region".

They accused Syria of a "new crime", that of defending Hariri's murderers, and insisted that during Syria's occupation of Lebanon, nothing could happen without Damascus' implicit or explicit approval. Syria, they believe, was the main player in the Hariri assassination and in other terrorist attacks.

In the country the situation is very tense. Beirut streets are for the most part empty and people are anxious about the future. Not only are they are afraid of a possibly violent Syrian reaction but they are concerned about a potential power vacuum given the fact that lawmakers have continued to call for the resignation of President Émile Lahoud.

Meanwhile, the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir's silence continues. Recently though, he and his bishops urged all Lebanese to "respect the constitution and the office of the President", in what many have seen as an indirect sign of support for Lahoud in the current difficult period.

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