09/30/2008, 00.00
LEBANON – SYRIA
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Hariri not ruling out Syrian hand in Tripoli attack

by Fady Noun
Some members of Lebanon’s parliamentary majority wonder whether “Syrian leaders are not using the Damascus attack as a pretext to justify a new, albeit limited military adventure in Lebanon.”
Beirut (AsiaNews) – The two attacks that hit Damascus and the northern Lebanese regional hub of Tripoli on successive days are set to reignite the diatribe between the Syrian regime and some Lebanese political groups. Both attacks bore the hallmark of Salafi Islamists and reflect an apparent rise in actions by Islamist groups in the region. But for some observers things could be quite different.

Lebanon’s Future Movement leader Saad Hariri said he did not rule Syrian involvement in the Tripoli attack. In response to statements by the Syrian president, Hariri in a press release directly accused Syria’s secret services of “planning ways to infiltrate extremist elements through the Lebanese border.”

Earlier this month Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had suggested that what was going on in northern Lebanon, with the rising influence of Salafi groups, represented a threat to Syria’s internal security. He made the point at the four-power summit in Damascus between France, Turkey, Qatar and Syria on 4 September and repeated it when he met Melhem Karam, head of Lebanon's Journalists Union. In his view northern Lebanon had become "a real base for extremism and constitutes a danger for Syria.”

For Hariri the question is whether Syrian leaders will use the Damascus attack as a pretext for a new, albeit limited military adventure in Lebanon. For this reason he has warned France and the Arab League of the danger.

Today Paris reacted cautioning Damascus “against any intervention in northern Lebanon,” Lebanese sources said.

Hariri wants a formal mission by Arab observers to investigate matters along the border with Syria. In his view “Syrian army deployment on the northern border cannot be dissociated from the series of intimidating actions against Lebanon [. . .] and the long series of attacks that the international commission is supposed to elucidate.”

On 22 September Syria deployed some 10,000 troops along Lebanon’s northern borders “for internal security” reasons. Officially the step was taken to stop smuggling between the two countries, but in fact for many observers Damascus wanted to send a strong signal to Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Aware of Syrian threats and conscious that no one could win as a result of intra-Lebanese fighting, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Abdel Aziz Khoja and Hariri pushed for faster political reconciliation in Tripoli to end violent clashes between local Salafi groups and pro-Syrian Alawi militias.

A source close to the opposition said that reconciliation in the city came after dozens of Salafi fighters were expelled and the city ceased to be a “a protected base.” The fighters are said to have found refuge in wooded areas in Akkar province, which borders Syria, where they have some support. And it is for this reason that Syria deployed in great numbers its elite troops along the border with northern Lebanon.

Hariri’s warning against the Syrian threat is the more credible after preliminary results from the investigation into the Damascus bombings indicate that it was the result of a suicide operation by an Islamic “terrorist” who arrived from neighbouring Arab country. Syria borders with three Arab states, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, but the authorities did not mention from which one the suicide bomber came. Without a name the rumour mill is spinning a thousand and one hypotheses about the attack.

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