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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

Bioterrorism 'a clear and present danger'

The threat of an al-Qaeda bioterrorism attack was a "clear and
present danger of the highest order", secretary general of
international policing organisation Interpol Ronald Noble said on

He was speaking in Cape Town at the opening of an Interpol-organised workshop for African police departments on bioterrorism -- an attack using biological weapons such as anthrax, smallpox or plague.

"The threat of bioterrorism is real because the threat of terrorism is real, and the damage that terrorists seek to inflict on us defies one's imagination, as we saw on 11 September 2001," he told about 90 delegates, including 16 police chiefs, from 41 countries.

"Therefore the bioterrorist threat must be confronted and reduced on all fronts."

He said al-Qaeda had "openly claimed the right to kill four million
people" using biological and chemical weapons, and had posted
instructions on how to make these weapons on its website.

"In my view, al-Qaeda's global network, its proven capabilities, its
deadly history, its desire to do the unthinkable and the evidence
collected about its bioterrorist ambitions, ominously portend a
clear and present danger of the highest order that al-Qaeda will
perpetrate a biological terrorist attack."

No region in the world was safe.

Noble said state agencies in the United States and Europe had fared
poorly in a series of simulated attack exercises over the past few
years, partly because of their lack of experience and training in
this field and their lack of understanding of the
nature of the threat.

Unfortunately, the police and public health communities had a "very
limited" history of working together internationally in a non-
emergency or not-crisis context.

"Interpol strongly believes that the risks of bioterrorism are so
momentous that the police and the public health communities must
break down the barriers currently preventing close collaboration,
locally, nationally and internationally," he said.

National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi, who is president of
Interpol, told journalists after the opening ceremony that though
South Africa had "received" people associated with al-Qaeda, and
that there might be a few in the country who sympathised with the
organisation, the police dealt with them ably and capably.

"It isn't a big problem. It is a problem that we must be alive to at
all times," he said.

"So we are no staging platform, or a conduit or a platform for
attacks. We do receive and we do react to those that we receive

One of the men arrested after the July 7 bus and subway bombings in
London, Haroon Aswat, was in South Africa weeks before the attacks.

Selebi said delegates to the workshop had no doubt that they had the
capacity and the willingness, though "we may not have the
resources", to deal with any threat.

Africa, like any other continent, could be the target of
bioterrorism attack, or could be used by terrorists as a springboard.

"If it is not if, but when, then we need to be ready today, not
tomorrow. In fact we should have been ready yesterday," he said.

Noble said the workshop, which will be held behind closed doors,
followed a global conference for police chiefs at Interpol
headquarters in Lyon, France, in March this year.

The African workshop would be followed by other regional workshops in Singapore and Chile.

South African delegates include members of the police's intelligence, forensic and bomb disposal units, and a representative of the office of the surgeon general.

Interpol has set up a dedicated unit at the Lyon offices to build national and international capacity to counter the threat of bioterrorism.

Interpol hopes to raise awareness of the threat, develop police training programmes, promote new legislation and encourage inter-agency co-operation on bioterrorism.

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Israel Bracing for Attacks after End of ´Cease-Fire´

Israeli security personnel were on highest possible alert Saturday night against a renewal of terrorist attacks, following the December 31 culmination of the 10-month "quiet."

The IDF killed two Arab terrorists late Saturday night after they were spotted trying to launch a rocket attack against Israel. Earlier Saturday, terrorists fired at least one Kassam rocket on the western Negev. It exploded in an open area on the northern edge of the Negev town of Sderot.

Terrorist organizations agreed in late February to halt attacks conditionally, but have announced several times, following Israeli strikes against "ticking bombs" which the Palestinian Authority (PA) has not stopped, that the agreement is not in effect.

The end of the year has been stated by the terrorist organizations as the expiry of their agreement if Israel did not turn over more Arab cities to the PA and free more prisoners and convicted terrorists.

Terrorist groups have pounced on the December 31 date as a warrant for them to intensify attacks, and Israeli officials fear they will try to prove their point while Israelis are filling entertainment places on Saturday night.

"We in the Islamic Jihad and resistance factions are free of commitment to this calm," Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib told Reuters News Agency., although it has continued to carry out suicide attacks, such as Thursday's bombing which killed an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint and was intended for a major population center.

"The truce is dead. By continuing its assassinations and occupation, Israel killed it long before it actually expired," said Abu Qusai, a spokesman for the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorists, part of the PA's ruling Fatah movement. A Hamas terrorist spokesman added, "Hamas and Qassam (the armed wing) will deal with any Zionist attack against our people in a suitable manner and in that way preserve the election process and preserve Palestinian blood."

Meanwhile, anarchy continued in Gaza, with 50 armed and masked gunmen of the ruling Fatah party storming post offices and a PA office to demand jobs. No one was injured.

The Rafiah crossing resumed operations after European Union (EU) observers fled when terrorists raided the compound on Friday to protest the killing of a policeman in a gun battle the previous day. Terrorists set up positions nearby.

"There is a checkpoint set up 200 meters outside the outer gate. We understand that it is manned by several police. It is not affecting our work," according to EU spokesman Julio de la Guardia.

Terrorists also have released the British human rights worker and her parents who had been abducted and held for two days.

By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

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Hardline Iran media reject Russian nuclear offer

TEHRAN (Reuters) - A Russian proposal to form a joint venture with Iran to enrich uranium on Russian soil deprives Tehran of its nuclear rights and is unacceptable, Iran's hardline media said on Saturday.

Diplomats and analysts say Iran's ultra-conservative press often reflects the uncompromising official stance on the nuclear programme and is also often used to spell out the country's negotiating position on the issue.

The Russian plan, which is backed by the European Union and Washington, is designed to allay international concerns that Tehran could produce its own highly enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons.

Iran says it only wants to enrich uranium to a low grade suitable for use in nuclear power reactors.

Iranian officials have said they are prepared to discuss the Russian proposal but will not abandon their drive to enrich uranium on Iranian soil.

"Pointless atomic negotiations, this time with Russia," said a front-page headline of the hardline Jomhouri-ye Eslami newspaper.

"Experts: Russian plan is not negotiable," said the ultra-conservative Kayhan newspaper.

Kayhan's editor-in-chief, Hossein Shariatmadari, was quoted as saying: "Since Moscow's proposal has crossed Iran's red lines in nuclear activities, it leaves no space for negotiations."

The paper also quoted Mohammad Kiarashi, a former Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency as saying: "In Iran's view, this plan is a dead proposal and is not acceptable at all."

In an editorial entitled "Russian Candy", Jomhouri-ye-Eslami urged Iranian officials to reject Moscow's plan.

"Joint enrichment beyond Iranian borders means nothing but depriving Iran of independent nuclear technology and the fuel cycle," it said.

"Accepting such a thing would be like giving away Iran's independence to foreigners and the Islamic Republic of Iran's officials will never accept such a shameful thing," it added.

While emphasising Iran's goal to produce its own nuclear fuel for atomic reactors on its own soil, Iranian officials have been careful not to reject the Russian proposal outright.

Analysts say Tehran is aware that rejection of Moscow's plan would increase calls, led by Washington, for Iran's nuclear case to be sent to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose economic and political sanctions on Iran.

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Friday, December 30, 2005

Indonesian Bombing

December 31, 2005

Palu, Indonesia

Indonesian Flag

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Tension rises in insurgency-wracked region of Pakistan as attacks kill 3

Khaleej Times: QUETTA, Pakistan - A rocket attack, a shootout, a bombing and an ambush in insurgency-wracked southwestern Pakistan have left two government soldiers and an attacker dead, officials said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for Friday�s attacks in Baluchistan province, where ethnic Baluch militants often target government buildings, railway tracks and paramilitary forces as part of a campaign to get more royalty payments for resources extracted in their areas.

The militants also oppose plans by the central government to build new military garrisons in Baluchistan, a mineral-rich but otherwise impoverished province of which Quetta is the capital.

Tension has been on the rise in Baluchistan since security forces backed by helicopter gunships dismantled alleged rebel hide-outs in Kolhu, east of the provincial capital, earlier this month. Tribal elders say the raids left dozens dead, including innocent women and children, a charge authorities deny.

In the latest attacks, assailants shot and killed two security forces as they drove through Khuzdar, a town 300 kilometers (180 miles) southeast of Quetta on Friday, said Rahmat Ullah Hasni, a local police official.

Two rockets also slammed near a camp of government soldiers in Kolhu, about 300 kilometers (185 miles) east of Quetta, said Lt. Col. Hassan Jamil, spokesman for the Frontier Corps, adding no one was injured.

He blamed restive tribesmen for the attack.

Hours later, tribesmen attacked a Frontier Corps post in Dera Bugi, triggering a shootout that left one attacker dead, said Abdul Samad Lasi, an official.

He gave no details about the clash in Dera Bugti, where the country�s main gas pipelines are located.

Also Friday, a bomb damaged a wall of a power grid station in Hub, 700 kilometers (435 miles) southeast of Quetta, said police official Jamil Ahmad.

He didn�t say who carried out the attack, but the Baluchistan Liberation Army - a group that claims to speak for the rights of Baluchistan - has claimed responsibility for attacks in recent weeks in Kolhu and elsewhere.

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China finds large oil deposit

According to remarks of a Chinese explore expert on Thursday that a massive oil deposit of 500 million tons has been discovered in an area near Lanzhou, capital of Northwest China's Gansu Province.

Sources also noted the 500 million tons deposit equal to 3.65 billion barrel, which would be equivalent to around four years of China's oil imports at current rates.

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Warnings of Major Terrorist Attack Appear on Moscow Buildings

People from western districts of the Russian capital have found flyers warning about a major terrorist attack planned for New Year’s Day on their homes, Ekho Moskvy radio station reported.

Unknown people posted copies of a telephone telegram allegedly signed by a prefect of Moscow’s Western district. The paper said that rebel leaders had planned an armed attack for Dec. 31 in the city.

The deputy prefect Alexander Elizarov called the appearance of the advertisements “a provocation”, saying he knew nothing about such a document. He, however, told the radio that the local authorities are holding a meeting of their anti-terrorism commission on Friday.

Ekho Moskvy radio station’s source confirmed that there was information about rebels planning to carry out terrorist attacks on New Year’s Day in Moscow, but it was not confirmed.

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US imposes sanctions on Indian and Chinese companies that dealt with Iran

Various articles on US sanctions imposes on companies that dealt with Iran in recent years.

India firms to US: We didn’t break law
The Asian Age India | Ramesh Ramachandran

New Delhi: The two Indian companies sanctioned by the United States government for supplying chemicals to Iran say the shipments were as per Indian law and the guidelines under the Chemical Weapons Convention were complied with.

The vice-chairman of Mumbai-based Sabero Organics Gujarat Limited, Mr Mohit Chuganee, said the ministry of external affairs and the ministry of chemicals and fertilisers had found no discrepancy in the business transaction.

Mr Smit Patel of Sandhya Organic Chemical Private Limited, in turn, said he was surprised to learn about the imposition of the sanctions despite adhering to all India laws and the relevant international guidelines. Mr Patel would not take more questions and chose to conclude his remarks by stating that the supply of chemicals were not without the approval of the government agencies concerned. However, Mr Chugging] was more forthcoming.

"There had been extensive contacts with the ministry of external affairs and the ministry of chemicals and fertilisers before and after the one-time shipment of 90 tonnes of trimethyl phosphite two years ago," Mr Chuganee told this newspaper. He, however, acknowledged that the government did suggest sometime ago that while the shipment was as per rules, politically it would better if the business transaction was terminated and further shipment discontinued with.

He said trimethyl phosphite was a dual-use chemical notified under Schedule Three of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Some 150 countries are signatories to the Convention, including India, Iran and the United States.

"We were in touch with both the director general of foreign trade (DGFT) and the department of chemicals and petrochemicals under the ministry of chemicals and fertilisers, which is the nodal agency designated under the Chemical Weapons Convention," he said. He said the Iranian company called Raja Shimi wanted to buy more quantities of the chemical but he chose not to process the request.

"The [decision to exercise the] option was ours," he said, who is in the business for the past decade.

Washington, meanwhile, maintained that the sanctions were based on "credible evidence". State department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said, "[The sanctions are] an important and effective tool in constraining Iran's efforts to develop missile and WMD capabilities."

China opposes U.S. sanctions on companies for arm transfers to Iran+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)BEIJING, Dec. 29_(Kyodo) _ China slammed Thursday a U.S. decision to impose sanctions on six Chinese companies for allegedly transferring weapons technology to Iran.

"We express our strong dissatisfaction as well as firmly oppose the U.S. method of imposing sanctions on Chinese companies," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.

China has "consistently taken a responsible attitude" toward nonproliferation of weapons technology, Qin said, adding the U.S. decision is not beneficial for cooperation between the two countries.

The U.S. State Department said Tuesday the government has decided to impose sanctions on nine companies -- six from China, two from India and one from Austria.

The sanctions come amid increasing concern in the United States and Europe about Iran's nuclear intentions and the transfer of weapons technology into Iran.

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Lebanon’s fragile coalition close to collapse

Rocket attack on Israel shakes Lebanon’s ruling coalition as Hezbollah and Amal are thinking of leaving it.

By Salim Yassine - BEIRUT

A rocket attack on Israel from southern Lebanon, claimed by Al-Qaeda but widely blamed on Shiite fundamentalist movement Hezbollah, has shunted Lebanon's ruling coalition closer to possible collapse.

The fragile alliance of anti-Syrian politicians and a pro-Damascus Shiite coalition has been shaken by Wednesday's rocket attack to which Israel responded with an air strike on a Palestinian militia base near Beirut.

While Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed the attack in an unverifiable statement, Israel and the United States both insist it could not have taken place without the knowledge of Hezbollah, which has been boycotting the government amid calls for the disarming of its military wing.

Five ministers from pro-Syrian Hezbollah and fellow Shiite bloc Amal have refused to take part in cabinet meetings since December 12 in protest at calls for an international probe into a wave of attacks against Damascus critics.

A source close to Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said that talks aimed at ending the crisis had stumbled over the application of last year's UN Security Council Resolution 1559 calling for the disarming of all militias in Lebanon.

Hezbollah militants were instrumental in bringing about the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon in 2000 and the group insists its forces must remain there to prevent a new Israeli occupation.

An Arab diplomatic source said Hezbollah and Amal were thinking of leaving once and for all the government it formed along with Christians, Sunni Muslims and Druze representing Lebanon's fractious ethnic patchwork.

Anti-Syrian Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said Damascus was trying to implicate Al-Qaeda in southern Lebanon to try to show that the area had become a "terrorist base" since Syrian troops quit in April after a 30-year presence.

The leader of Hezbollah's bloc in parliament, Mohammed Raad, said Siniora's refusal to sign a new agreement covering the presence of militias in the country was "unacceptable".

"We are heading for a serious crisis and difficult decisions," he warned.

Siniora himself dismissed the Al-Qaeda claim for the rocket attacks on Israel as "a sort of fabrication and joke", before implying the political crisis could be defused.

"We are condemned to agree with each other ... there will be no resignation, disagreement is forbidden," he told journalists following talks with parliament speaker and Amal chief Nabih Berri.

Shiite MP Bassem Sabeh, part of the anti-Syrian majority, said however that the rocket attacks were aimed at discrediting Hezbollah by showing it did not actually control the south of the country.

Amid increasing international pressure, veteran Israeli politician Shimon Peres described Hezbollah as a "cancer" that had "pervaded and compromised all ranks of Lebanese government".

"Hezbollah holds back Lebanon," said the former prime minister. "It is a state within a state, an army within an army. It is like a cancer. Nobody wants it."

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The Two Faces of Hezbollah

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Lebanon's militant political group Hezbollah (Party of God) has become a global brand name. But for Hezbollah _ and those who must deal with the group _ the overarching question is, "What's the brand?" The United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and the parliament of the European Union all designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and not without some evidence.

The U.S. government blames Hezbollah for numerous acts that nearly defined Middle East terrorism in the mid-'80s, including: the Beirut truck bombings in October 1983 that killed 241 U.S. Marines; the April 1983 U.S. Embassy bombing in Beirut that killed 63 people and a second bombing of the U.S. Embassy that killed 22 people in September 1984; and the 1985 hijacking of Rome-to-Athens TWA Flight 847 in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed (the man convicted for the murder was just released by German authorities after serving 19 years in prison).

Hezbollah denies involvement in any of these attacks.

The United States also claims the group carried out a series of kidnappings of Westerners from 1982 to 1992, including the torture and killings of CIA station chief William Buckley and U.S. Army Colonel William Higgins; and the abductions of American journalist Terry Anderson and the Archbishop of Canterbury's special envoy, Terry Waite.

Most experts and observers agree that Hezbollah is a complex organization. In a 2003 report, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group wrote: "Fully penetrating Hezbollah's decision-making process is almost impossible. The movement enjoys a highly effective regimen of internal discipline and concealment."

In addition to its militia, Hezbollah has a full-scale multimedia operation including a media relations department (ironically, when I arrived there to conduct interviews, I was not allowed to videotape and managed only to take this photo).

Still, Hezbollah's media wing is savvy. It publishes a monthly magazine called Qubth Ut Alla, (The Fist of God) and runs television network Al-Manar (The Lighthouse) and radio station al-Nour (The Light).

Hezbollah also maintains an aggressive program of charitable work, including building schools and hospitals for the Shia community in Lebanon.

And though it defines itself through opposition to Israel and the U.S., it has also condemned the 9/11 attacks and spoken out against some of the beheadings by insurgents in Iraq.

Hezbollah, made up of Shia Muslims, also says it has no connection to Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda (dominated by Wahabist Sunnis who consider Shias heretics).

In an interview at their businesslike media relations office in west Beirut, Director of Foreign Media Hussein Naboulsi tries to clarify for me some of the enigma that is Hezbollah.

"Hezbollah is Hezbollah," he says, "there's no change in its definition. It's a political, religious party created as a reaction to Israel's invasion [of Lebanon] in 1982. Politically it's represented in both cabinet and parliament, and considered by all to be a legitimate party. But if you're against Israel, the U.S. administration labels you as they want."

Israel is uncompromising on its view of Hezbollah. Reached for comment on Hezbollah's emergence as a political force in Lebanon, Jeremy Issacharoff, deputy chief of the Israeli embassy to the U.S., said, "Israel's position regarding the blatant terroristic nature of Hezbollah is well known and needs no further elaboration."

Despite the terrorist allegations, many in Lebanon, especially among the majority Shia community (an estimated 40 percent of the population) consider Hezbollah a resistance movement. Some even regard Hezbollah as liberators that forced Israel to retreat from southern Lebanon in 2000.

"This organization should be considered the most patriotic in Lebanon," says Naboulsi. "We fought the Israelis and forced them to leave. Hezbollah sacrificed 1,800 martyrs and thousands of wounded soldiers for the sake of this country _for the sake of dignity and honor of this country."

Because of that perception, Hezbollah is the only faction in the country allowed to keep weapons, ostensibly as a buffer against Israeli incursions. Naboulsi says the militia has earned the right to be armed.

"Fighting the Israelis is not a picnic; it's blood spilled. It's not a reward in a festival," he says, his voice rising with emphasis. "No one can take that mission unless he has faith _ extreme faith and loyalty to this country."

Now Hezbollah is deep into several phases of another mission: that of becoming a credible and viable political entity in the fractious sphere of Lebanese politics.

The first time it got involved in the political process was in 1992, winning 12 seats in the 128-seat parliament. But in an alliance with the Shia Amal party, it nearly doubled those numbers in the 2005 general election by taking 23 seats.

Hezbollah was also given cabinet posts when it cast its lot with the current alliance of parties forming the Lebanese government.

"There's a great ambition," says Naboulsi, "We want to see real reform in Lebanon. But that reform should begin with a just electoral law _ not based on sectarian factors, but proportional representation. In proportional representation, I win and you win. Everybody has a seat in the parliament. It's good for all Lebanese."

But not all Lebanese agree. The current Lebanese democracy is based on a decades-old practice of what's called "consensus politics," a complicated formula in which Lebanon's different ethnic and religious factions are apportioned specific government slots, regardless of their makeup in the total population. Christian groups, particularly, are concerned that changes in the electoral law could lead to dominance by a Shia or Muslim alliance.

Theocracy Hezbollah has said in the past that it would like to see Lebanon become a theocratic state in the model of one of its primary funders and supporters: Iran. But it has quietly backed off a bit from those statements recently, perhaps in hopes of appearing more conciliatory.

And it may need to be, to offset what may end up being a costly political position for these days: that of providing full support to its other primary financial supporter, Syria.

Hezbollah actively opposed what was dubbed "Cedar Revolution," the democratic outcry following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Along with international pressure, the events led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops after nearly 30 years in Lebanon.

"The Syrians played a key role in the stability of Lebanon, putting an end to the civil war," says Naboulsi. "And Syria really supported the resistance which ended up forcing the Israeli enemy out of Lebanon."

But being that outspoken has a price. Some Christian parties want to see Hezbollah disarmed (something already called for by United Nations resolution 1559) and may have used that threat, some say, to push Hezbollah and the Amal party to support an expanded U.N. investigation into the Hariri killing _ something that they both initially opposed.

The government is still in a deadlock, near collapse. But Hezbollah is rumored to be a key player in an unlikely alliance with a longtime foe: former Lebanese general Michel Aoun, a staunch anti-Syrian who recently returned from 15 years of exile in France, following the Syrian troop withdrawal.

Naboulsi says Hezbollah reached out to Aoun first.

"Even when Michel Aoun was in Paris and no one dared to speak to him," he says. "We were the first to begin the open dialogue. You can't make other sects your enemy."

If Aoun's supporters and Hezbollah make a deal to get the government running again, it could provide Hezbollah with more credibility. It would also seem to demonstrate a commitment beyond its own interests and that of Syria's, to a unified Lebanon.

"Hezbollah is an essential part of Lebanon which no one can ignore," says Naboulsi. "It's the biggest party of the biggest sector of the population and because of consensus democracy, no one can form a government without our contribution."

And for its own political base, Hezbollah's anti-Israeli, anti-American rhetoric is part of the appeal. Hezbollah has called for the destruction of Israel and even offered to open up a second front against the Israelis during the Palestinian intifada.

As for the U.S. designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, Naboulsi is matter-of-fact: Any future dialogue is doubtful.

"The American government has labeled us as terrorists," he says. "They say they don't negotiate with terrorists _ and neither do we."

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‘Taliban’ gain sway in tribal region

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani followers of Afghanistan’s Taliban have gained sway in a sensitive border area where they have been killing their opponents with impunity despite the heavy presence of government forces.

The word of the militants, who call themselves Taliban, has virtually become law in parts of the semi-autonomous North Waziristan tribal area while the military appears loathe to intervene.

“The situation is no longer under their control,” Rahimullah Yusufzai, a prominent journalist and expert on the region, said of the Pakistan Army. The government had “totally abdicated” its authority in North Waziristan, he said. “It seems it’s Taliban raj (rule) there.” Waziristan is part of Pakistan’s tribal belt that stretches through rugged mountains and deserts along the Afghan border. Many Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban members fled to the remote region from Afghanistan after US-led forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001 and were given shelter by militants from the ethnic Pashtun tribes that inhabit both sides of the border.

The army launched an offensive to clear foreign militants from the region two years ago and hundreds of people – militants and government troops – have been killed. The latest violence follows a December 1 blast in a house near the region’s main town, Miranshah, where officials said an Al Qaeda commander, Abu Hamza Rabia, and four others were killed.

Although Rabia’s body was not found, authorities say he died when explosives at his hideout detonated accidentally. Villagers said the blast was caused by a missile from an aircraft, possibly a US drone. While there does not appear to be a direct link between Rabia’s reported death and subsequent violence, the widespread belief that US forces attacked Rabia has added to the tension, residents say. Despite the militants’ brazen killing of more than 20 rivals this month, the government says the situation is under control. Authorities were “fully cognisant” of the situation, said military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan. “But at this moment, rather than taking hard military action, political developments are being allowed to take precedence.”

The area’s civil administrator, Zaheerul Islam, dismissed the violence as a tribal dispute. “The situation is under government control,” he said. Despite such assurances, law and order seem a long way off.

“Elements linked to Al Qaeda rule the territory and not the Pakistan Army,” the Daily Times said in a recent editorial.

British colonial rulers gave the fiercely independent Pashtun tribes a large degree of autonomy, and administered the region through officials known as political agents. Pakistan stuck with the system after independence.

But the September 11 attacks and Pakistan’s support for the US-led war on terrorism and invasion of Afghanistan threw the traditional system into question. Vowing to bring the area under the control of the government, the army sent in 70,000 troops but some analysts blame the violence on the army’s intervention. “The military has mishandled the situation,” said analyst Ayaz Amir, a former army officer, diplomat and politician. The army has made deals with some tribal leaders, while going after others seen as backing al Qaeda-linked militants.

“The result has been a lack of trust and the situation has deteriorated instead of improving,” Amir said.

About 50 tribal leaders who supported the campaign against the militants have been killed, while the army seems no closer to imposing authority. “In effect, the army is confined to fortified bases while the Taliban are filling the vacuum outside,” Amir said. The result has been brutal gun law.

The latest violence began on December 6 with a clash between the militants and rivals led by tribal leader Hakim Khan, whose men, residents said, had adopted the common practice of extorting “taxes” from motorists. Ten of Khan’s men, branded bandits by the militants, were killed in the initial clash along with five militants whose comrades mutilated and strung up several bodies of their rivals, decapitating one and putting his head on a pole.

For days the militants drove around Miranshah brandishing weapons and hunting, killing and beheading several more rivals. Emboldened, the militants have started appealing for funds they say they need to fight crime, a nervous resident said this week. Sneering at laws against displaying weapons, the militants have been accorded authority by some people who have turned to them with complaints that should be dealt with by the administration, residents say.

Military spokesman Sultan said action would be taken if things got of hand but another officer said that wouldn’t happen yet. “When two tribes are fighting we can’t take sides,” said the officer, who declined to be identified. reuters

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Palestinian HR Monitoring Group: 51% of Palestinian fatalities from Palestinian fire

Special News Report:
Brother Against Brother

On Thursday, PA policemen Abed al-Rahem Saleh (20 years old) was shot and killed while trying to restore peace to a Gaza neighborhood.
Armed gunmen opened fire on the police station where he was working, in an attempt to force the release of clan members from the prison. The ensuing gunfight resulted in the death of al-Rahem Saleh and one of the gunmen. The clash gave credence to reports that the PA has lost control over Gaza.

To accompany this tragedy, a new investigative report by the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group has revealed an alarming trend: over half of Palestinian fatalities in 2005 have been a result of gunshot wounds received from other Palestinians. The number of Palestinian deaths by Palestinian gunfire is the highest this year than in any year previously recorded. In Gaza alone, 37% of gunfire fatalities for the year 2005 have occurred since the pullout in September.

As a result of these events, the PHRMG calls on the Palestinian Authority to restore the rule of law to the Palestinian Territories. The PA's irresponsiveness to the civil unrest in Gaza and the West Bank is deplorable. It is vital that the PA take action to stop the exchange of illegal weapons in the Palestinian Territories: the PA must not continue passively promoting the arming of clans and military factions.

The percent of Palestinian fatalities caused by Palestinian
gunfire rose from 5% last year to a staggering 51% this year. This data reveals that Palestinians are more often killed by fellow Palestinians than by IDF soldiers or other Israelis. The PHRMG appeals to Palestinians across the Territories to stop the war against fellow Palestinians and help restore civil order.

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Iranian clerics urge unity in desperate times of Ahmadinejad's government

Dec 30, 2005: New calls for support and unity of Iran's government have blared across the country in what has been seen as a growing domestic disapproval of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's new government.

During Friday prayers, cleric's urged for unity and patience for the government by all of Iran's citizen's. International policies and erratic diplomatic rhetoric has left Iran on the verge of UN sanctions and on a collision course with the US and EU over it's nuclear enrichment agenda and it's anti-semitic remarks that has outraged even it's own traditional allies.

During prayers in Teheran, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati stated:

"We should avoid jumping to conclusions in our judgments on the government's performance, since the new administration, which is a new experience, needs more time to do its duties."

Many secular voters in Iran have been left in a state of despair and worrisome over the future of Iran after elections in the country were seen as dictated by its unelected religious council who had pushed for Ahmadinejad to become president.

Addressing the US leaders, Jannati said, "You have oppressed, tortured and imprisoned anyone who was a little against you." The ayatollah added, "Islam will never accept and tolerate your cruelty and force, will never be silent and will support the oppressed people".

In a clear statement addressing US pressure on Iran in the region, Iran has pushed for a shia dominated Iraq in hopes of creating a buffer-zone between Iran's borders and US military personnel in the region. Besides Iraq, Iran has recently pushed Syria and Hizbollah to step up pressure in the region in hopes of diverting attention of the US to its western front rather than Iran's interference in Iraq's insurgency and election fraud accusations.

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Chad rebels say they joining forces to fight Deby

DAKAR, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Chad rebel groups opposed to President Idriss Deby said on Friday they had formed a military alliance to try to overthrow him, increasing pressure on the Chadian leader who accuses Sudan of backing the insurgents.

Eight anti-Deby groups, including one formed by Chadian army deserters and another which attacked an eastern border town in Chad this month, agreed in a joint communique to pool manpower and weapons to "free Chad of the dictatorship of Idriss Deby".

"Each of our groups had their own forces, men and equipment. Now, we'll be joining them together," Abdullahi Abdel Karim, spokesman for the Rally for Democracy and Liberty (RDL), one of the rebel groups, told Reuters by satellite phone.

Confirming the communique, which was also posted on Chad-related Websites, Abdel Karim said the alliance, called the United Front for Democratic Change, was formed during a Dec. 26-28 meeting at Modeina in eastern Chad.

It would be led by Captain Mahamat Nour, whose RDL forces on Dec. 18 had attacked the town of Adre on Chad's eastern border with Sudan. Chad said it repulsed the attack, inflicting heavy casualties, but the RDL said it had made a tactical withdrawal and would strike again.

The rebel alliance appeared to herald a growing insurgency threat to Deby, a 53-year-old former army commander who himself led an armed revolt from the east to seize power in 1990.

Since the Dec. 18 attacks, Deby has accused neighbouring Sudan of backing the rebels, a charge denied by Khartoum which says he should look for his enemies closer to home.

"Now he sees the opposition is getting stronger, he's looking for a scapegoat ... This is a Chadian problem," Abdel Karim told Reuters.

He said the new alliance could muster "not less than 10,000 men", but there have been no reliable independent assessments of the rebels' strength.


Deby, who survived a military mutiny last year, has faced growing army desertions this year, including a group which rebelled against him in September.

That group, calling itself Platform for Change, National Unity and Democracy whose French acronym is SCUD, is also part of the anti-Deby alliance.

Analysts said that while Deby faced betrayal and desertions at home, he was also threatened by spillover across the border from the festering conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur.

"His regime is vulnerable ... there is already a sense of his administration foundering, with competition among his followers to take over," Suliman Baldo, Africa Program Director of the International Crisis Group think tank, told Reuters.

He said the threat from the Sudanese region and from internal insurgents were entwined because the rebels used Darfur, about the size of France, to shelter and regroup.

"This is where people go to pick up arms, train and come back to attack from," Baldo added.

Deby is from the Zaghawa ethnic group which lives in both Chad and Sudan. After the 2003 revolt in Darfur against the Arab government in Khartoum, Sudanese Zaghawas are among the ethnic Africans targeted by Arab militia backing Sudan's government.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the Darfur violence and Deby's reputation among his own clan followers has also become a casualty as they accuse him of not doing enough to help Sudanese kinsman under attack by Arab militia known as janjaweed.

Showing nervousness over security, Deby reshuffled his military top brass in November, two days after gunmen raided army bases in N'Djamena. In October, he had dissolved his Republican Guard and created a new personal security force.

Analysts believe the need to pay for increased security is also partly behind Deby's move to scrap a landmark law safeguarding oil profits for future generations, allowing his government wider access to oil revenues.

Chad's parliament approved the oil reform on Thursday, earning a rare public rebuke from the World Bank.

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" Syria and China Sign a Cooperation Agreement" : Report

Syrian media sources have released a statement on a new cooperation agreement between Syria and China.

The article is quoted as saying:

Education Ministry signed with Popular Republic of China Thursday the executive program of joint agreements between the two countries in fields of Education, Higher Education, Culture and Media for years "2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008".
"This program shows the deep-rooted cultural relations connecting our countries ," Chinese ambassadress in Syria Zhou Xiuhua, who signed the program for the Chinese side, said.
She pointed out that the agreement expresses the deep cultural relations which are developing so fast between Syria and China, saying "these relations are considered the strong bridges to enhance friendship between Syrian and Chinese peoples.
Deputy Education Minister Mohammed Mahmoud Mohammed who signed the program for the Syrian side noted that "the agreement which includes 71 subjects is dealing with cooperation in different domains".
"It is a big important step in developing bilateral ties with Friendly China," Moahmmed added.
on the other hand, Minister of Education Ali Saed discussed with Chinese ambassadress to Damascus Zhou Xiuhua ways of developing and enhancing educational relations by exchanging experts, specialists and educational plans and researches.
Mr. Saed expressed the Ministry's desire to be acquainted with the Chinese experience in establishing typical sport and music schools, "the ministry is studying the possibility of establishing such schools in Syria" he told SANA reporter.
For her part the Chinese ambassadress stressed the necessity of developing the friendly ties and deepening the joint cooperation between Syria and China in all domains including the educational one.


Most analysts are skeptical of this agreement and point to China's new energy and military exports push within the Middle east and would use this as a cover for its diplomatic affairs in the region.

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Syria 'threatened' Lebanese PM

The Australian: SYRIAN President Bashar al-Assad threatened former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri just months before he was assassinated, Syria's ex-vice president Abdel Halim Khaddam said overnight.

"I will destroy anyone who tries to hinder our decisions," Mr Assad told Mr Hariri during a meeting in Damascus, Mr Khaddam said on the Dubai-based television station Al-Arabiya in an interview from Paris in which he also announced his resignation.

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Lebanon's Junblat accuses Syria of instigating militia attack on Israel

In Beirut, the Lebanese Druze leader and parliamentarian Walid Junblat held Syria responsible for the missile attack on Israel from inside the Lebanese territories, stressing that it (Syria ) stands behind this operations.

He questioned on Thursday, looming to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad without naming him "why he does not use these unidentified identity missiles in the Golan and dispatched them instead of that to the liberated south Lebanon and thereby the Lebanese should bear reactions with their political and economic dimensions."

On the other hand, the Lebanese parliamentarian and member of Junblat bloc in the Lebanese parliament Marwan Hamadeh called for the trial of the Syrian foreign minister Farouq al-Sharaa over what he considered misleading the UN investigation committee regarding the murder of Rafiq al-Hariri.

Hammadeh criticized Sharaa's statements on Wednesday before the meeting of the Ruling National Progressive Front in Syria in which he accused Hariri of lying when he said that Bashar al-Assad threatened him "because he (Hariri) was not able to justify accepting the extension of the term of office for the Lebanese President Emil Lahoud."

In the same context, the headquarters of the UN in Damascus received a petition signed by some 3 million Syrian demanding the UN secretary general Kofi Annan to reject the American pressures on the organization concerning the murder of Rafiq al-Hariri. The signatories expressed their rejection oir the two reports by the chairman of the UN investigation committee Detlev Mehlis, whose term of office expired.

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Islamic Jihad Takes Credit for Bombing

(AP) - NABLUS, West Bank-The Islamic Jihad militant group claimed responsibility Friday for a suicide bombing in the West Bank that killed one soldier and two other Palestinians.

slamic Jihad activists in the West Bank village of Atil, near Tulkarem, announced on loudspeakers that their bomber, Sohieb Ibrahim Yassin, 19, carried out Thursday's attack.
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The suicide bombing took place just south of Tulkarem. The bomber was in a taxi that was stopped at the roadblock set up because of warnings a suicide bomber was headed toward Israel.

After getting out with two others, the bomber detonated an explosives belt concealed beneath a large overcoat, the Israeli army said. A 21-year-old army officer was killed, along with the bomber's accomplice and taxi driver.

Islamic Jihad has carried out all six suicide bombings since Israel and the Palestinians declared a cease-fire last February. Israel has been targeting Islamic Jihad leaders in arrest raids in the West Bank and airstrikes in Gaza.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat condemned the bombing and called on all groups to honor the cease-fire. "The Palestinian Authority is committed to the cessation of violence," he said.

Violence in Gaza has increased since Israel pulled out in September, destroying its 21 settlements. Israeli artillery shelled northern Gaza for a second day after declaring a six square-mile area next to the border a "no-go" zone, an attempt to stop a rash of rocket firing by Palestinian militants.

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Marathon to Return to Libya; Former Oasis Group to Resume Operations After 19-Year Absence

PRNewswire: Marathon Oil Corporation(NYSE: MRO), in conjunction with its partners in the former Oasis Group, today announced that it has reached agreement with the Libyan National Oil Corporation on the terms under which the companies will return to their former oil and gas exploration and production operations in the Waha concessions in

Marathon and ConocoPhillips each hold a 16.33 percent interest in the Waha
concessions, with Amerada Hess holding an 8.16 percent interest, and the
Libyan National Oil Corporation holding the remaining 59.16 percent interest.
The concessions, which currently produce approximately 350,000 barrels of oil
per day, encompass almost 13 million acres located in the Sirte Basin, which
is one of the most prolific oil and gas producing areas of Libya, and which
contains sizable undeveloped oil and gas resources. Marathon anticipates
adding in excess of 160 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe) to the
company's proved reserves as a result of the reentry into Libya. In addition,
the company expects to add approximately 40-45,000 net barrels per day of
production during 2006.

"This is a historic day for Marathon and our partners," said Clarence P.
Cazalot, Jr., Marathon president and CEO. "We are pleased to be rejoining our
longtime friends at the Libyan National Oil Corporation and the Waha operating
company. We look forward to assisting in the further exploration and
development of Waha's significant oil and gas resources, improving
productivity from the existing fields and to providing gas supplies for the
Libyan economy and for export."

The fiscal terms will be essentially the same as the terms in effect at
the time of the suspension of the partners' activities in 1986. The reentry
terms include a 25-year extension of the concessions through 2031-34, and a
payment of $1.3 billion to the Libyan National Oil Corporation ($520 million
net to Marathon) for reentry and the extension of the concessions. In
addition, the companies will make a contribution to unamortized investments
made since 1986 of $530 million ($212 million net to Marathon), that was
agreed to be paid as part of the 1986 standstill agreement to hold the assets
in escrow for the U.S. partners.

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Lebanon stops rockets aimed at Israel

Dec. 30, 2005: Lebanese security forces found Katyusha rockets aimed at Israel and disarmed them.

The rockets were near the border town of Naqoura, a stronghold of Hizbollah and pro-palestinian factions. Both rockets were defused and no one was injured.

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South Asia Analysis Group
Paper no. 306
03. 09. 2001
by B. Raman

The Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the militant wing of the Pakistan-based Markaz Dawa wal Irshad (MDI), has been behind most of the recent incidents of terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). It describes its objective as three-fold: firstly, to "liberate" J&K and have it merged with Pakistan; secondly, to similarly "liberate" Hyderabad and Junagardh, which it considers as rightfully belonging to Pakistan, and have them brought under Pakistan's sovereignty; and, thirdly, to "liberate" the Muslims living in other parts of India and create two more "homelands" for the Muslims of the sub-continent, one in North India and the other in the South.

The LET, along with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), both of them of the Afghan war vintage, was also in the forefront in organising assistance for the Muslim separatists of Southern Philippines, Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya and Dagestan. Since the early 1990s, both the organisations had been collecting funds for the Muslim separatists in these areas, smuggling to them arms and ammunition and had even sent their own cadres to fight for the separatists.

An assessment disseminated in October,1994, by a news organisation called Compass had stated as follows: "Arab "Afghans" have been moving further afield as well. Some are in Bosnia, helping fellow Muslims fight the Christian Serbs. Between 200 and 300 of these veterans of the Afghan war, including non-Arab Muslims, are based in Zenica in Bosnia, where they are widely feared. Hundreds of "Afghans" have made their way to Bosnia. The number of non-Bosnian Muslims in the military is estimated at between 500 and 1,000 from a dozen countries in the Middle East. From all accounts, they have fought with some distinction. Some 300 "Afghans," organized into a unit known as "the Guerrillas," operate with the Bosnian 3rd Corps in Zenica. Algerian leader Kamar Kharban, a veteran of the Afghanistan war, has visited Bosnia several times over the last two years.

"The 'Afghans' and other Muslim volunteers have also been a source of friction with the Bosnians, who are largely secular Muslims. The outsiders' religious zeal and arrogant commitment to their holy war has angered their hosts. But many of the volunteers represent wealthy organizations or countries whose support the beleaguered Bosnians count on. The "Afghans" are believed to have been behind the murder of British aid worker Paul Goodall on Jan. 27, 1994, near Zenica. Three Muslim volunteers, all Arabs carrying fake Pakistani passports, were shot dead by Bosnian military police at a roadblock near Sarajevo. Three others were arrested by police for questioning in the murder. The Al-Kifah, or Struggle, Refugee Center in New York, which used to recruit and raise funds for Mujahedeen headed for Afghanistan, last year announced it was switching its operations to Bosnia. It was established in the mid-1980s by Egyptian Mustafa Rahman as a joint venture with Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, spiritual leader of Gamaat al-Islamiya. "

In 1996, in a book titled "Offensive In the Balkans", Mr. Yossef Bodansky, Director of the Republican TASK FORCE ON TERRORISM AND UNCONVENTIONAL WARFARE of the US House of Representatives, wrote as follows on the "Bosnian Jehad":

"...The build-up of new Islamist units was completed in Bosnia- Herzegovina in the Spring of 1995. These forces are closely associated with the Armed Islamist Movement (AIM) and Islamist international terrorism, and include the first organized deployment of MARTYRDOM FORCES (THAT IS, SUICIDE TERRORISTS), both veteran Arabs and newly trained Bosnians.

"These new activities were conducted under the guidance of the new Islamist headquarters in Teheran and Karachi, decided upon during the Popular Arab Islamic Conference (PAIC) convened in Khartoum in the first days of April 1995. The Conference decided to establish "new Islamist representative offices" for the international Islamist movement. The new regional center in Tehran will be responsible for Islamist activities (training, equipping, operational support, etc.) in Bosnia-Herzegovina (as well as other politically-sensitive hot spots), while the comparably new center in Karachi would be responsible for Islamist activities in Albania (and Kosovo). Furthermore, this overall Islamist effort and build-up is not just to cope with the situation in the Balkans, but also to be used as A SOUND BASE FOR THE ISLAMISTS' ABILITY TO EXPAND OPERATIONS INTO WESTERN EUROPE - mainly France, the UK and Germany...

"Meanwhile, the leadership of the Armed Islamic Movement (AIM) was formally notified in mid-May 1995 that the "Mujahedin Battalion is an officially-recognized army battalion of the Bosnian army. It is comprised of non-Bosnian volunteers, called ANSAR, along with Bosnian Mujahedin. The formal name of the unit is "Armija Republike BiH, 3 Korpus, Odred el-Mujahedin". The commander, an Egyptian "Afghan", was identified as "Ameer Kateebat al-Mujahedin Abu al-Ma'ali" - a religious-military title and a nom the guerre. The Islamist force is based in Travnik and Zenica areas in central Bosnia...

"...The Khartoum, Sudan-based National Islamic Front (NIF) - the political umbrella organization to which AIM answers - did not take long to look for the appropriate solutions for the challenges in Bosnia- Herzegovina...

"...Being a theologically driven movement, the NIF supreme leadership sought legal precedents to serve as a guideline for the nature of jihad which they believe should be waged in Bosnia, Palestine, and Kashmir. In mid-August 1995, Khartoum informed the AIM senior officials in the front line - in such places as Sarajevo, Muzzaffarabad (Pakistan), and Damascus - of the precedent found.

"The NIF leadership pointed to the text of "fatwa" originally issued by the Islamic Religious Conference held in El-Obaeid, State of Kordofan (Sudan), on April 27, 1993. It is presently used in Khartoum, at the highest levels of NIF, as the precedent-setting text for legislating relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in areas where the infadels are not willing to be simply subdued by the Muslim forces. The following places - Palestine, Bosnia, and Kashmir - are stated explicitly as areas to where the principles outlined by this fatwa are most applicable.

"...Meanwhile, Sarajevo's apocalyptic view of the future fits closely with the Islamists' growing anticipation of "gloom and doom" in their relations with the West...

"...The AIM senior officials in Sarajevo reported in mid-May 1995 the completion of "a new camp called Martyrs' Detachment", in order to absorb many newly-arriving Mujahedin. These SUICIDE TERRORISTS, including at least a dozen Bosnian Muslims, graduated from an intensive course in training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the early Spring of 1995. These Bosnians along with Arab "Afghans" were deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina for both operations in the Balkans as well as, should the need arise, operations in Western Europe (specially France, the UK, Italy, and Belgium). ("Afghan" is the term used to describe those fighters trained and tested in the Afghanistan civil war. Most are of Arab, North African or Pakistani origin).

"High-level Arab sources in the Middle East stressed that these Bosnia-based Mujahedin, especially the suicide terrorists, are being organized as a new force, forming a center for operations throughout Europe. Moreover, by the Summer of 1995, the Islamist infrastructure in Bosnia-Herzegovina had already constituted the core of a new training center for European Muslims."

The first report to emerge on the "Arab-Afghan" Mujahideen presence in Bosnia, was an interview accorded to the "Time" Magazine by one Commander Abu Abdel Aziz in 1992. It included a picture of the commander in his henna-dyed beard and Afghan style fatigue. After the "Time", "al-Sharq al-Awsat", a Saudi-owned, London-based daily, ran a front-page story on Abu Abdel Aziz and his activities in Bosnia.

In August 1994, "Al-Sirat Al-Mustaqeem (The Straight Path)", an Islamic journal published in Pakistan (Issue No. 33), carried an interview with Abu Abdel Aziz. The journal, without identifying his nationality, reported that Abu Abdel Aziz spoke perfect Urdu and that he had spent extended periods in Kashmir. Abu Abdel Aziz's forces were, unlike other Islamic freelancers, part of the seventh battalion of the Bosnian Army (SEDMI KORPUS, ARMIJA REPUBLIKE BH, it was said.

In the interview, he made the following points:

* "I was one of those who heard about Jihad in Afghanistan when it started. I used to hear about it, but was hesitant about (the purity and intention of) this Jihad. One of those who came to our land (presumably Saudi Arabia) was sheikh Dr. Abdallah Azzam. I heard him rallying the youth to come forth and (join him) to go to Afghanistan. This was in 1984 -- I think. I decided to go and check the matter for myself. This was the beginning (of my journey with) Jihad. Then the conquest of Kabul came.
* "A new Jihad started in Bosnia, (we moved there), and we are with it. As to Arab Mujahideen (in Bosnia), they do not have a separate battalion. There is a battalion for non-Bosnian fighters. Arabs are a minority compared to those of the Mujahideen (gathered from around the World). This battalion is under a unified command and is called Kateebat al-Mujahideen (Mujahideen Battalion), Odred "El-Mudzahidin" as they call them in Bosnian. Militarily, it has a link to the Bosnian government under the general command of the Bosnian Armed Forces. It is in fact part of the seventh battalion (SEDMI KORPUS, ARMIJA REPUBLIKE BH) of the Bosnian Army. I am a field commander under the "General Unified Armed Command". We have full jurisdiction in the region we are responsible for (Editor's note: Mostly central Bosnia). The general command of the Muslim forces wants to see results, it does not dictate strategy or action.

* "I met several prominent Ulema. Among them Sheikh Nasir ad-Din al-Albani, Sheikh Abdel Aziz Bin Baz and Sheikh Muhammad Bin Otheimin and others in the Gulf area. Sheikh Nasir ad-Din al-Albani is one of the great Ulema of this time and one seeks guidance in the light of his knowledge and view. (I say) in my last meeting with him, he was supportive of Jihad in Bosnia-Herzeg (as a religious duty). However, he told us not to attack - that is we, the Arab Mujahideen - since we were the smaller host The Sheikh was afraid we might get killed in large numbers if we engaged people in the fight. However, he requested that we dig in and be at the most advanced defense-lines (Khat ad-Difa` al-Awwal) to defend those persecuted.

* "The rest of the Ulema support Jihad by any means (defensive or offensive). You must understand that - militarily speaking - the number of those killed in defense is (far) higher than those killed in attack. This is due to the fact that in attack, clashes and skirmishes take place between Mujahideen and Kuffar (non-believers). The Kafir (unbeliever) does not throw himself arbitrarily in the cross-fire for fear of killing his companions. This fact lowers the number of the dead and this is the most important fact of the matter.

* "Jihad in Kashmir is still going on. It is healthy. Our Kashmiri brothers have achieved a lot. Some of our Mujahideen brethren, whether Arab or (Ajam non-Arab), such as the Pakistanis and our brethren from South-East Asia, have also helped. Their actions have been very successful, especially in the lands under Indian government control. Mujahideen execute hit-and-run operations. However there is a lack of support by Islamic governments and a lack of media coverage by Islamic outlets, on the level of atrocity and destruction by the non-believers in those lands. "

Subsequently, this Abu Abdel Aziz appeared at a conference of the LET at its headquarters in Muridke, near Lahore, in November,1994. He was introduced to the audience as an Indian Muslim living in Saudi Arabia, who was playing a heroic role in helping the Muslims of Bosnia in their fight against the Christian Serbs and in helping the Kashmiris fighting against the Government of India.

Other reports indicated that in May 1995, like-minded fundamentalist groups formed a "Rapid Deployment Force" called "Katiba al –Mujahideen (Batallion of the Mujahideen) at a meeting held in the Philippines. The meeting was attended among others by al-Sheikh Abu Abdul Aziz, described as the Chief Commander of the 7th Brigade of Muslim forces in Bosnia, Salamat Hashan, the Chairman of the Moro Islamic Front (Philippines), Abdul Karim, Chairman of the Islamic Front (Eritrea) and Prof. Hafiz Mohd Saeed, Amir MDI (Pakistan). The meeting chalked out the following objectives- (a) nationalities and frontiers on the basis of races was an un-Islamic perception; (b) to work in support of Muslims in all those parts of the world where action was being taken against them; (c) the Mujahideen of the newly formed Katiba Al-Mujahideen would carry out militant operations and fight in Kashmir to eliminate un-Islamic perceptions of nationalities and frontiers.

Abu Abdul Aziz had disappeared from public view since 1998. There were rumours in Islamic circles in Pakistan that he had been arrested by the Saudi authorities, apparently because of his suspected links with Osama bin Laden, who is against the Saudi monarchy.

The Indian media has reported on August 30 about the arrest by the Hyderabad Police of one Abdul Aziz alias Ashrafi, who had fought in Bosnia and Chechnya. It needs to be verified whether the arrested person could be identical with the individual described in this article.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: corde@vsnl.com)

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Former vice-president launches fierce attack on Syrian leadership, policies

Harold's List
BBC Monitoring Middle East - Political
Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring
Source: Al-Arabiya TV, Dubai, in Arabic 1900 gmt 30 Dec 05

Former Syrian Vice-President Abd-al-Halim Khaddam has said that "many threats" were made against former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri both in Syria and Lebanon in the months before his death. He noted that, while the relations between Hafiz al-Asad and Al-Hariri were good, the attitude changed when President Bashar came to power as he began to see Al-Hariri as a threat to Syria. The circle around Lebanese President Lahhud, Lebanese security agencies and certain political circles were also involved in "serious instigation" against the former prime minister, Khaddam said. He noted that months before his death he suggested to Al-Hariri that he should leave Lebanon, adding: "It had never come to my mind that Syria would assassinate Al-Hariri at all." However, Khaddam insisted that the result of the international investigation into Al-Hariri's death, which he described as professional, must not be prejudiced. Commenting on the Syrian domestic and foreign policies, the former vice-president said that President Al-Asad's rule was based on "unilateralism and centralism" which undermined the role of institutions and parties and the implementation of political and economic reforms, and brought about wide-spread corruption. He said the president's reading of the regional and international developments was wrong, which brought the country "from the circle of danger to the very centre of danger" over its policy in Lebanon and Iraq. The following is text of "exclusive" interview with Abd-al-Halim Khaddam by Muhammad Fayyad Qunaybir, Al-Arabiya correspondent in Paris, date not given, broadcast by Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya TV on 30 December; subheadings inserted editorially

[Qunaybir] Our dear viewers: Our guest in this exclusive interview is Abd-al-Halim Khaddam, former Syrian vice-president. Khaddam was with former President Hafiz al-Asad in party work for 55 years and in the state for 35 years as foreign minister, starting in 1970, and as vice-president of the republic from 1984. When President Bashar al-Asad assumed power after the death of his father, Khaddam kept all his party and official positions, but his stardom did not continue and he had, at a later time, to resign all his party and political posts. What is the secret of the estrangement between the strong man in the regime of Hafiz al-Asad and Bashar Hafiz al-Asad? Abu-Jamal [Khaddam] will speak in this interview about Syria internally and externally and about Lebanon and the reasons for the deterioration in relations between Lebanon and Syria and the Syrian position on the Iraqi and Palestinian files. Abd-al-Halim Khaddam, welcome to Al-Arabiya.

[Khaddam] Thank you. You are welcome.

"I will return to Damascus"

[Qunaybir] First of all, you are here in Paris. Have you been exiled or have you chosen to stay away? Why and for how long?

[Khaddam] Actually, I am not exiled and I have not chosen to stay away. I came to Paris to have a chance to write an important stage in the history of Syria and the region. I was one of the key leaders in planning and executing our foreign policy. I saw that it is my national duty to write the history of this stage so that generations and people would see the correct facts and developments. We managed to achieve for Syria a prestigious standing in the Arab and international arenas. In Paris, I can write quietly, away from the political clamour that exists in Syria. So I chose to go away to write, and not to quit political work. I will return to Damascus. Syria is in my heart and mind. I came to Paris to write. I faced no insult or threat. I left while my relations with President Bashar al-Asad are good and friendly. Differences in views do not change anything. I have different views, but before my departure I bid him farewell and he knows that I will stay here for a long time to write. So what is said about threats or harassment is not true. So far, this is not true.

[Qunaybir] Why are you saying so far? Do you expect threats at a later stage?

[Khaddam] I expect some people who misled him [Bashar al-Asad] to incite him.

[Qunaybir] Do you fear that on your return, there will be a trial or opening of some files against you?

[Khaddam] First of all, all Syrians know who Abd-al-Halim Khaddam is. They also know the sacrifices I have made to boost the status of Syria. They know the efforts I have made to make Syria occupy a prestigious place and status. They know that I faced five assassination attempts, not because I had a disagreement with anyone, but because I was the strong defender of Syria's policy. They know all this. Therefore, if anyone dares to think of trying me, he should keep in mind that one day, he too will be in the dock.

[Qunaybir] Are there files that you can bring against others?

[Khaddam] I have a great deal to say, but I will not say it for the sake of Syria, for the sake of the country. Anyone who tries or thinks about this knows well what I have and knows that I have a great deal and serious stuff.

[Qunaybir] What is the nature of this serious stuff and who is involved in it specifically?

[Khaddam] Syria's interest requires that I do not speak.

[Qunaybir] Where is your family now? Are they staying in France or are some of them in Syria?

[Khaddam] They are in Damascus, but they have come to Paris now to spend the holiday.

[Qunaybir] So they will return and they are not here for security reasons?

[Khaddam] They will return.

[Qunaybir] At the last meeting you had with President Bashar al-Asad, what was the atmosphere like and was there an argument or a sharp discussion between you? What did he tell you and what did you tell him?

[Khaddam] In fact, all our meetings were friendly. This man is very polite when he talks to others. He treated me in a friendly way and with respect. I think that a large part of this is due to his knowledge of the nature of the relationship that existed between me and his father. I have not heard from him a single word that hurts my feelings or offends me. Two days before my departure, he received me and the conversation was friendly and wide-ranging. There are differences in views, but there is mutual respect.

[Qunaybir] Abd-al-Halim Khaddam: It has been said that you left Syria during difficult times, that you left Syria when you no longer had the post from which you benefited in the past. How would you react to this?

[Khaddam] It is true that I left Syria during difficult times. I left it for the sake of Syria. I, as I have noted, want to chronicle the history of a stage in which I was a key player.

Relationship with President Al-Asad

[Qunaybir] You were the first high-level Syrian official to resign from your party and state posts. Was this caused by a personal dispute with President Bashar al-Asad, or by other things?

[Khaddam] I got to know President Bashar al-Asad in 1998 when his father was grooming him for the presidency. Several meetings were held between us. These meetings focused on the domestic situation, the Arab situation and the international situation. We held identical views regarding the need to carry out serious reforms in Syria, political reforms which address expanding the space for democracy, the freedom of party work, basic freedoms and individual freedoms. We also discussed the economic situation and the need for drastic economic reforms that would provide Syria with the ability to raise the people's standard of living, fight unemployment and provide the prerequisites for national defence. We also discussed the Arab and international situations. We were in agreement on how to work to serve the interests of Syria and the Arab nation. Therefore, when he assumed the presidency, I decided to cooperate with him, extend all possible cooperation and assistance, put the expertise in political work that I have accumulated over the many years at his disposal, and put my knowledge at his disposal to serve the country's interests. After he took the oath, I submitted a study to him on developing the party, which means developing the political system in Syria. In this study, I addressed several issues, including the issue of freedoms and democracy, the economic situation, how to remedy the economic crisis experienced by Syria, the issue of the relationship between Islam and Arabism, and the issue of modernism. I submitted a set of proposals in a way that rendered the memorandum a strategy for the Syrian foreign policy. I think that had President Bashar al-Asad adopted this strategy, Syria would not have fallen into these minefields and we would not have faced these external and internal difficulties. This is because the big problem is that when it has no policy to pursue, the state walks into a minefield of total darkness. Within the leadership, we focused on the economic issue.

In October 2000, we made decisions to launch a significant set of economic reforms. They were sent to the cabinet, where they remained unimplemented. During one of my visits to France, I met President Jacques Chirac and requested him to submit [changes thought] - send us a group of experts who would examine administrative issues in Syria and how they can be developed and upgraded. As a matter of fact, a group of experts came and conducted their studies. They submitted proposals which were left in the cabinet's drawers and none of them was implemented. Then I became convinced that the process of rehabilitation and reform, be it political, economic or administrative, will not kick off. So I decided to resign. I did some soul searching and faced two options: to side either with the homeland or with the regime. I chose to side with the homeland because it is the constant fact, whereas the regime is a transient state in the history of the country, just like other regimes elsewhere.

Domestic situation - "centralism", corruption

What did I get from this soul searching? I found the following: the unilateralism and centralism in the exercise of power was so great that the role of constitutional institutions, the role of the party leadership and the role of the popular organizations was entirely absent. Their role has become that of one to cover up for the decisions made by the president.

The second point is that the reform process had stopped, so dereliction of duty and corruption increased in the state. This has reached the point that a former employee at the Public Security Department before the year 1970 whose salary was no more than 200 Syrian pounds died and left behind an estate worth 4bn dollars. Another employee, who was an accountant at an airline company before 1970 owns, together with his sons, an estate worth no less than 2bn dollars at a time when poverty is on the rise and the need increases for the country's resources. The net annual income of the two companies [not further identified] is the equivalent of 700m dollars, which is about one-sixth of the state budget. This is a striking and unprecedented phenomenon in the political life of Syria since its independence.

[Qunaybir] What do you mean by the relative? Can we specify those relatives?

[Khaddam] By relatives I mean cousins, paternal and maternal cousins, and the inner circle of the relatives as well as the inner circle of friends. At a time when millions of Syrians cannot find anything to eat and when some of them search for food in the garbage the wealth accumulates in the hands of a few people illegally because of the absence of law. What is present is the interests of the inner circle that surrounds the ruling group. Half of the Syrian people live under the poverty line and the other half live parallel on the poverty line, and a small minority of people enjoy a good life. We cannot face the foreign pressures while the Syrian people's freedom is confiscated and they are banned from working in politics and controlled by security forces.

[Qunaybir] To be objective, regarding all that you speak about concerning the need for reforms, giving freedom to the people and stopping the control of the security services over them, why have you not presented them when you were a decision-maker over more than 30 years in Syria?

[Khaddam] If we return to the party's congresses since 1971 until 2005 and to the meetings of the regional commands during that period we find that the views I presented were based on developing the country and achieving the aims of the Tishrin movement of 1970 [the coup that brought former Syrian President Hafiz al-Asad to power]. The movement was based on openness and people's participation. The constitution was written on this basis. The freedom of the political parties had been approved at that time. Later on, negative accumulations took place. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the huge developments that took place in the world in the field of principles, values, ideology and the way of life [sentence incomplete as heard]. Concerning the internal situation, my role was as a member of the Regional Command. The Regional Command was kept absent and had no role at all. The executive power was in the hands of the head of state. However, during all command meetings, especially after the year 2000 when President Bashar al-Asad assumed power as president - and I challenge anyone, and the minutes of the command meetings are available - I used to present two issues, which are the foreign pressures and the need for internal reforms, conducting national dialogue and enhancing national unity, as well as peoples' participation. In all meetings that were held, even economic meetings, I talked about the internal situation and the need for reforms. This is documented in the minutes of the meetings of the command whether at the Republican Palace or the headquarters of the Regional Command.

[Qunaybir] Mr Abd-al-Halim Khaddam, you say that you have tried to come up with reformist ideas, and they, meaning President Bashar al-Asad and his team, did not respond to this. However, previous reports were to the contrary - that President Bashar al-Asad comes up with reformist ideas, but they are obstructed by the old guard, and you are one of them. This is what was said at the beginning?

[Khaddam] This was said by the security agencies. They wanted to cover up for negligence in the field of reform. Consequently, they wanted to blame this negligence on the old guard. What are the reasons that have led to this situation? The first reason is unilateralism in exercising power. The second reason is the wrong reading of the Arab and international developments -

"Wrong reading" of regional, international developments

[Qunaybir, interrupting] Excuse me. You mean that President Bashar al-Asad personally is exercising power unilaterally?

[Khaddam] Of course, personally. The second reason is the wrong reading of the regional and international developments, and the wrong conclusion of decisions to confront these developments. I'll give some examples: in early September 2004, [US Congressman] Darrell Issa visited Syria and met the president. Martin Indyk has also visited Syria and met the president. This is what I heard from the president. He said that Darrell Issa would make efforts to promote the Syrian-US relations, and Martin Indyk criticized the policy of [US President George] Bush's administration towards Iraq. He then told President Bashar al-Asad that [William] Burns will come with a large delegation, and at any rate, the United States is not interested in Lebanon but in Iraq. The same was said during the talks within the leadership on other occasions. It was instilled in the mind of President Bashar al-Asad that the United States would come to him crawling to negotiate with him on Iraq and to allow him to stay in Lebanon. This is a wrong reading. This wrong reading has led to conclusions later. So, the wrong reading and the wrong conclusion have also put the country into a host of problems from which it is now suffering.

The third reason is emotional reactions and attitudes, which are two bad qualities in any official, especially since emotional reactions make an emotional person lose the ability to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong -

[Qunaybir, interrupting] Emotional reaction by whom?

[Khaddam] The president. For example, he receives some news, he becomes enthusiastic and he makes a decision. However, after a while, he discovers that what he was told was not true. So he begins to correct the mistake that was made. However, why should we be emotional? Hafiz al-Asad had a special ability of self-restraint. This is an important quality for anyone who assumes the responsibility of ruling a country. The other issue is what those around a decision-maker instil in his mind to the effect that he is a distinguished person, and if he makes a mistake they show that his mistake is right, and if he is unjust they depict his injustice as just. Facts will then be lost, justice will be lost, and then woe unto the people. The inner circle, with the illusions it instils in the [mind of the president] has played and is playing a big role.

Relations with military figures, foreign minister

[Qunaybir] I want to mention some names, such as [head of the Syrian military intelligence] Asif Shawkat and [commander of Syria's Republican Guard and President Bashar's brother] Mahir al-Asad. What is your relationship with these two in particular like?

[Khaddam] When I was in power, I had no contacts with the armed forces except through the defence minister and the chief of staff if need be. I knew them. But, there were no political or other relations with them.

[Qunaybir] A heated argument took place between you and [Foreign Minister] Faruq al-Shar'a during the 10th congress of the Ba'th Party. During the debate, you criticized Syria's foreign policy. Do you not feel that you were done an injustice as you see that Faruq al-Shar'a has become the second-in-command in Syria, while it was you who escorted President Hafiz al-Asad for more than 30 years?

[Khaddam] I do not feel that I was done an injustice because I do not seek to confront Faruq al-Shar'a. Second, no heated argument took place between us. He was mistaken in running the session. Third, the Political Committee [of the Ba'th Party] rejected the report he submitted. Fourth, he is not the second or tenth-in-command in Syria. I do not want to do injustice to myself and say that an argument took place between me and him. This is far from the truth.

Late interior minister

[Qunaybir] You knew [late Interior Minister] Ghazi Kan'an very well. The common thing between you was that you were responsible for the Lebanese file. The official Syrian account said that he committed suicide. Do you have any reason to question this account?

[Khaddam] I have no information. I did not contact and was not contacted by anyone from the closed circle about late Ghazi Kan'an. However, if we take into consideration the circumstances in which he was placed and the psychological pressure that was exerted on him, we can say that the suicide is probable. I cannot give a definite opinion. But he has probably committed suicide. I do not know if a serious investigation was launched into this issue and whether it reached any serious conclusions. I take this issue at face value.

[Qunaybir] What psychological pressure was placed on him that led him to commit suicide?

[Khaddam] One day before [his death], he was invited to iftar dinner [fast-breaking meal during the month of Ramadan] by one of his friends. He was joyous. It did not seem that he was planning to commit suicide. The next day, the picture changed. He seemed tense. He left his office. Where did he go? Who called him? What was said to him? Nobody knows the answers. At least, I do not know.

[Qunaybir] Had you had contacts with him recently?

[Khaddam] I had not met Ghazi for more than a year and a half. We used to talk on the phone sometimes. He was busy at the Ministry of the Interior and I was busy with my work. Our meetings were few. They stopped in the past year and a half. I think that these meetings were suspended against his will.

[Qunaybir] Was he asked to stop meeting with you?

[Khaddam] I think so.

Syrian officials in Lebanon

[Qunaybir] Which side exerted pressure on him or moved him from the position that he had influence before that?

[Khaddam] Things are different. The situation in Lebanon reflected negatively on Ghazi but not on Rustum Ghazali [former head of the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon who succeeded Kan'an in the post]. Some sought to blame [Kan'an] for the accumulations in the Lebanese file and forgot about Rustum Ghazali. There is no doubt that Ghazi made mistakes in Lebanon. But, he made mistakes in a polite manner and corrected the mistakes in a polite manner. Rustum Ghazali acted as if he was the absolute ruler of Lebanon. I once learned that he insulted Prime Minister Al-Hariri, Speaker Nabih Birri and Walid Junblatt. I said to President Bashar [al-Asad]: Why do you keep him [Ghazali] in Lebanon? He is harming you and the country. He is acting in an unreasonable manner with the Lebanese leaders and insulting the prime minister and others. He [Al-Asad] said to me that he also insulted Najib Miqati [pauses] Sulayman Firanjiyah. I said: He insulted your friends. Why do you accept that? Al-Asad said that Ghazi was to blame because he nominated him. I said: Ghazi made a mistake. You can replace him. He said that he would talk to him and warn him. He did speak to him and he [Ghazali] apologized. After some time, the bad deeds increased. I said to him: Rustum Ghazali has taken 35 million dollars from the [Lebanese] Al-Madinah Bank. You certainly have the file. He said: He [Ghazali] is a thief. Go and see what he did in his village. He built a palace and a market. I said: You are the commander of the army and president of the republic and you know that an officer has made these mistakes, so why do you keep him in his post? He once again said that Ghazi Kan'an was the one who nominated him.

After the assassination of Prime Minister Al-Hariri; specifically on 28 February 2005, I met [Al-Asad]. I said to him: Bring this criminal and cut his throat. He is the one who created this situation in Lebanon.

[Qunaybir] Did you say this about Rustum Ghazali to President Al-Asad?

[Khaddam] Of course, I said this about Rustum Ghazali. He [Al-Asad] said that Ghazali would be replaced soon, but he was not. The president made a speech at the People's Assembly in which he said that mistakes were made in Lebanon. I told him that I was seeking to protect him. I told him to form an investigation commission, to bring back the officers who made mistakes in Lebanon and to refer them to court martial. I asked him to try these people who should take responsibility for the mistakes that were made in Lebanon. I said: Why should the state take responsibility? Why should you take responsibility? He said that it was not possible to punish anyone before the [Ba'th Party] congress. I also told him: Bring the foreign minister [Faruq al-Shar'a], who got you involved in Resolution 1559 and put him in his house. He said: We cannot bring anyone to account before the congress. The congress was held. The surprise was that Rustum Ghazali was a member of the congress. He [Al-Asad] appointed him the head of the security branch in Damascus Rural Areas Governorate, which is close to Lebanon. One had to ask: Why is Rustum Ghazali being protected while everybody knows his sins. Why is he protected?

[Qunaybir] All this leads us to talk about Lebanon, with which you have a long story that began with the Syrian entry into this country in 1976 and ended with tears you shed in the house of Rafiq al-Hariri to which you went twice to offer your condolences. Abd-al-Halim Khaddam: who killed Rafiq al-Hariri?

[Khaddam] To answer this question, we must wait for the results of the investigation. An international investigation is under way and all parties back and subscribe to this investigation. It is too early to point accusing fingers to this or that party. Nonetheless, what I would like to note is that the Lebanese regarded the political campaign directed against the late [former] Prime Minister Al-Hariri as an offence directed against them. At any rate, we have to wait for the investigation [result]. The question is: Were ties between the Syrian leadership and [former] Prime Minister Al-Hariri good? An answer to this question could shed light on the problem between the man and the Syrian leadership.

"Many threats" to Al-Hariri

[Qunaybir] Mr Abd-al-Halim Khaddam, before addressing this issue with you, an insider who knows about the nitty-gritty of the Syrian affairs, I would like to know whether there are Syrian parties, either in Damascus or Beirut, who threatened the former Lebanese prime minister before the assassination.

[Khaddam] Yes. Many threats were made against the late Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

[Qunaybir] Death threats?

[Khaddam] When the chief of the security apparatus tells his visitors while fiddling with his pistol -

[Qunaybir, interrupting] You are talking about Rustum Ghazali?

[Khaddam] Yes. [continuing] - that he will do so and so. Many threats were made, either in Damascus or [sentence incomplete as heard]. There was serious talk about Prime Minister Al-Hariri. Once, he was summoned to Damascus. I heard this directly from three sources: from President Al-Asad, from Prime Minister Al-Hariri and also from Ghazi Kan'an. Prime Minister Al-Hariri was made to hear extremely harsh words.

[Qunaybir] You are talking about the brief encounter between him and President Bashar al-Asad?

[Khaddam] No, I am talking about an episode that took place months before that encounter, months before the extension [of Lebanese President Emile Lahhud's term in office]. He was made to hear extremely harsh words. I learned of this from the president.

[Qunaybir] From whom?

[Khaddam] From President Bashar al-Asad who told me about this during an encounter I had with him. I addressed him, saying: You were talking to the Lebanese prime minister.

[Qunaybir] These words were addressed to him when he was the prime minister, before he tendered his resignation?

[Khaddam] He was the prime minister. The words were addressed to Al-Hariri in the presence of Rustum Ghazali, Muhammad Khalluf [a top aide to Rustum Ghazali] and Ghazi Kan'an. How could you use such words with the Lebanese prime minister? How could you use such words in the presence of junior officers? Then, he realized that a mistake was made. So he asked me to contact Prime Minister Al-Hariri, hold a meeting with him and remove the offence that Prime Minister Al-Hariri felt.

[Qunaybir] Pardon me. Can we get to know the gist of some of these words? Where does the harshness of these words lie?

[Khaddam] The harshness lies in the argument which ran as follows: You want to bring a [new] Lebanese president. You want something. I will not allow you to do so. I will crush whoever tries to act against our decision.

The president's words were that harsh. I do not recall the exact words. But they were extremely harsh. Prime Minister Al-Hariri went out of the meeting and he suffered both hypertension and a nosebleed. Ghazi Kan'an took him to his office and tried to calm him down. This fact is known. Within the leadership, the discussion once addressed Resolution 1559. Prime Minister Al-Hariri was strongly attacked and described as a man who was carrying out an unprecedented action in Lebanon - rallying his sect around him, which was viewed as an anti-Syrian move. Talk along these lines continued. As a matter of fact, I contacted the president afterwards, wondering why there was such talk at a leadership meeting. I said such talk would be leaked.

[Qunaybir] You contacted President Al-Asad?

[Khaddam] Yes, of course. I was in constant touch with him. Why this talk? The political situation in Lebanon is a sect-based situation.

Rafiq al-Hariri had rallied his sect behind him. What is [Lebanese Speaker] Nabih Birri? The Amal Movement is a Shi'i movement, Hezbollah is a Shi'i party, Al-Maradah is a Maronite movement, the Lebanese Forces is a Christian-Maronite movement. Why was Al-Hariri a threat to Syria if his sect rallied behind him, while [Hezbollah leader] Hasan Nasrallah and Nabih Birri do not constitute a threat if their sect rallied behind them? Days later, [former Lebanese Defence Minister] Muhsin Dallul came to me and I asked him to inform the late Abu-Baha [Al-Hariri] to leave Lebanon because his situation in Syria had become complicated.

[Qunaybir] How long was that before his assassination?

[Khaddam] Months before that. It had never come to my mind that Syria would assassinate Al-Hariri at all. Therefore, the atmosphere created certain impression among the people. The result of the investigation will confirm or deny this impression.

[Qunaybir] How true is the talk that a meeting was held for six ranking Syrian officials, and you were one of them, and the idea of liquidating Al-Hariri had been presented but you opposed it?

[Khaddam] This is not true. No such meeting had been held at all.

[Qunaybir] Can we believe the rumour that a Syrian security service may have assassinated Al-Hariri without necessarily the knowledge of President Bashar al-Asad?

[Khaddam] We should wait for the investigation. However, in principle, no security apparatus or any other apparatus in the Syrian state can make such a decision unilaterally. In his interview with Der Spiegel magazine, President Bashar al-Asad himself denied the charge levelled at Syria and said if Syrians were involved this meant that he was involved. For a security apparatus to be unilaterally involved is impossible. Whether a security apparatus is involved is something that will be decided by the investigation.

Two stages in relations with Al-Hariri

[Qunaybir] You were the only Syrian official who went [to Beirut] to extend condolences on the death of Al-Hariri. Before that, you were the only Syrian official who visited [Lebanese] Minister Marwan Hamadah after the attempt on his life. Were you sent by President Al-Asad?

[Khaddam] No, I went personally and not in any official capacity in the light of the friendly and fraternal relationship between me and Al-Hariri. I also visited Hamadah in the light of the friendship and fraternity between us. I went to offer condolences on Al-Hariri's death and to attend his funeral because he was a friend and I am well aware of what he had extended to Syria and how he served Syria in various stages. Hence, I want to point out the issue of relationship with him. There are two stages in the relations with Al-Hariri. During the period of President Hafiz al-Asad, relations were very good. I remember two incidents: the first when the Labour Union tried to launch strikes, President Hafiz al-Asad contacted the union head in Syria and asked him to invite the Lebanese Labour Union to meet me to convince them not to launch the strike. President Hafiz al-Asad then told Izz-al-Din Nasir [head of the Syrian Labour Union] that Al-Hariri is a Syrian asset that we should not weaken but strengthen. This is one incident. When Gen Lahhud was elected president, he visited Damascus. President Hafiz al-Asad asked him: Who is the next prime minister? President Lahhud replied it is Dr Salim al-Huss. President Hafiz al-Asad said: No, Rafiq al-Hariri should be the prime minister. Lebanon needs him and we need him.

[Qunaybir] Nevertheless, it was Al-Huss who became prime minister?

[Khaddam] Why did he become prime minister? Because President Lahhud put up obstacles, which made Al-Hariri apologize. Salim al-Huss was appointed as prime minister. In the second stage, that is during the rule of President Bashar, the approach changed. The campaigns launched by President Lahhud and the Lebanese intelligence agencies against Al-Hariri were fierce. President Bashar al-Asad was influenced by these campaigns. Thus, the tension caused by the Syrian leadership continued. Al-Hariri tried to deal positively with Syria and make some concessions in order not to anger the Syrian leadership.

[Qunaybir] In addition to Rustum Ghazali, who were the members of the circle that was instigating President Al-Asad against Rafiq Al-Hariri?

[Khaddam] In the first place, these campaigns were launched by the Lebanese circle, including President Lahhud, Jamil al-Sayyid, the security agencies and some Lebanese figures who were harmed by Al-Hariri. The serious instigation came from the Lebanese side. I want to quote a small example. Jean Ubayd is a well-known friend of Syria. He rejected the decision to extend [the term of President Lahhud]. He was a candidate for the post of president. The Lebanese intelligence presented a report to Anjar [the headquarters of the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon] and then to Damascus, saying that Jean Ubayd, who was the foreign minister, met the US ambassador in his car at night to hatch a plot. We believed the report and boycotted Jean Ubayd. This is an example of what was happening. Jean Ubayd was the foreign minister. If he wanted to meet the US ambassador, he could have done so at the ministry or at his house. Why should he meet him in his car? Was Ubayd that stupid to hold such a meeting in his car? Some Lebanese sides were planning to drag Syria to what it has fallen into.

[Qunaybir] Which sides in Syria, other than the person you have mentioned, were instigating [against Al-Hariri]?

[Khaddam] A few individuals who have limited influence.

[Qunaybir] Were the instigators in Lebanon from the security agencies or did they include political leaders? Can you give us some details?

[Khaddam] Basically, it was the circle of the president of the republic. There were some individuals who had no influence on the decision-making in Syria or Lebanon. These individuals used to convey intelligence information to the security agencies.

Al-Hariri's assassination

[Qunaybir] Are you convinced of Ahmad Abu-Adas's [the alleged suicide bomber who appeared in a video tape broadcast by Al-Jazeera TV claiming the killing of Al-Hariri] story and that a suicide bomber belonging to extremist groups blew himself up?

[Khaddam] He who made up the story of Abu-Adas was extremely stupid. He who fabricated the story of the [Australian] pilgrims was also very stupid. The bombing needed 1,000 kilograms of explosives of a special type. It required highly-sophisticated technical equipment to disable the jamming equipment used in Al-Hariri's motorcade. Can Ahmad Abu-Adas bring such a quantity of explosives? If he was in a car, where is his body or remains? I do not think that any sane person can believe that Ahmad Abu-Adas was behind the crime.

[Qunaybir] You mean that from a security perspective, the matter required the intervention of the party which had control on the ground at the time to carry this out?

[Khaddam] I do not want to level accusations, but this matter requires high technical resources, a large amount of explosives and an active agency for control that consists of not less than 20 people, as well as management of this big operation. What organization and which person can bring 1,500 or 1,000 kg of explosives? Neither Ahmad Abu-Adas nor Ahmad Abu-Hummus [Khaddam is being sarcastic about the name; adas means lentils in Arabic and hummus means chickpeas]. This is a big operation and there is an agency behind it. Which agency is it? This is what the investigation should reveal.

[Qunaybir] Are you talking about a Syrian, Lebanese or Israeli agency? We want to know. Can you be more specific?

[Khaddam] I am talking about a security agency. I do not want to make accusations. There is an investigation commission. I personally have confidence in it and all the parties in Lebanon have confidence in the commission. Once this commission discovers the truth, we can say that it was this or that agency. But no-one can carry out such a big operation except a strong agency with huge resources.

Mehlis report "technical and professional"

[Qunaybir] What is your opinion of the content of the Detlev Mehlis report about the circumstances of the assassination?

[Khaddam] We all know the circumstances. The campaign against Prime Minister Al-Hariri was by some of our friends. Sulayman Franjiyah said that [the assassination of] Prime Minister Al-Hariri had been a foreign plan since 1996. This was said one week or 10 days before the assassination. Prime Minister Umar Karami said that Al-Hariri and Junblatt are implementing an American plan. Talal Arsalan, Asim Qansuh, Wi'am Wahhab - all members of this group had launched a poisonous campaign against Prime Minister Al-Hariri. Then there was the issue of oil.

[Qunaybir] When he was accused of distributing oil for electoral purposes?

[Khaddam] Yes, yes. [This was the substance] of all these campaigns.

[Qunaybir] Do you think that the Mehlis report did injustice to some Lebanese and Syrian parties and that it levelled accusations without offering material evidence, as the critics of the report say, or do you see in it an accurate description of what happened prior to the assassination?

[Khaddam] I am a lawyer. The report is technical and professional. He provided the gist of what he has. He cannot provide what he has because this will affect the integrity of the investigation. Mehlis is a professional man and he is a well-known judge. His report is a good, professional report. He avoided politicizing the investigation although it is a political crime. The suspects politicized the investigation. They politicized the investigation when he issued the report, yet they praise the investigation when the report is quiet [sentence as heard].

Syrian reaction to death of Al-Hariri

[Qunaybir] How did you in Syria receive the news of the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri? What was the reaction of the Presidential Palace, President Al-Asad, the circle around him and the officials in general?

[Khaddam] We had a meeting at the Regional Command. After the meeting, we were sitting in the room of one of the members of the command. The news came out. I personally was shocked. All those present said that this was a disaster for Lebanon and that it harms Syria. However, if we want to see what the reaction was, we will take it from a statement by Faruq al-Shar'a. Faruq al-Shar'a was meeting [Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel] Moratinos. Reporters asked Al-Shar'a this question: There was an explosion in Lebanon that claimed the life of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, what is your reaction? He said: There was a big explosion in Lebanon and it claimed the lives of a number of Lebanese brothers. He had never heard the name of Rafiq al-Hariri. Rafiq al-Hariri had become unknown and his name unfamiliar. On the other hand, Moratinos spoke for several minutes about Prime Minister Al-Hariri and about his traits. Of course, this statement or reaction reflects the inner feeling towards Prime Minister Al-Hariri.

Extension of President Lahhud's term

[Qunaybir]What was your personal view on extending the mandate of Emile Lahhud, knowing that you were one of those who supported extending the mandate of Elias al-Hirawi?

[Khaddam] When the name of Gen Emile Lahhud was first put forward for president of Lebanon I opposed the idea. When [late] President Hafiz al-Asad asked why I said: Lebanon cannot tolerate a military rule.

[Qunaybir] Did you expect a difference between Lahhud and Al-Hariri?

[Khaddam] Yes, yes, yes. So I opposed the idea twice: when his name was first presented to become the president and when it came to extending his mandate. With regards to extending Lahhud's term in office, I met President Bashar al-Asad on 18 August 2004 to bid him farewell before I went on leave abroad. I asked him: Will there be an extension for President Lahhud? He said: Absolutely not. I told him: Be careful. Let nobody drag you into extending his term. Neither you nor Syria or Lebanon can tolerate extending Lahhud's term. The extension will have dire consequences for both Syria and Lebanon. He said: This issue is out of the question.

A few days later, Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri phoned me. He said: Your people have changed their mind. I was summoned to Damascus for 15 minutes and President Bashar al-Asad wanted to extend.

The conversation was brief and we did not discuss the details. He asked me: What is your opinion? I told him: Extend and then resign. You cannot bear the consequences of your refusal to extend.

[Qunaybir] In what sense will he not have been able to tolerate the consequences? Do you mean political -

[Khaddam, interrupting] He will be exposed to great pressures.

[Qunaybir] Did you mean political or security pressures?

[Khaddam] From all aspects. I asked him about the stand of Walid Junblatt because he gave me the same advice during a visit with me.

After I returned to Syria from my leave, President Bashar al-Asad received me on 6 September. He began to speak about his talks with [US Congressman] Darrell Isa and Martin Indyk, as well as the forthcoming visit by a US delegation. He then said: The Americans are not interested in Lebanon, they are interested in Iraq. He asked me: Did you follow the news? I answered: Yes. He asked: What do you think? I told him: Syria is within the circle of danger and you placed it in the centre of danger.

[Qunaybir] This was three days after Resolution 1559 was issued?

[Khaddam] Yes. I told him: You have placed Syria in the centre of danger. What have you done? The Lebanese are against us, the Arabs are against us, and Europe and America are also against us. Now after 30 years in Lebanon, Syria has only two men - Emile Lahhud and Sulayman Franjiyah - to endorse as presidents of Lebanon. If Syria has only these two people, this will be evidence of the failure of Syria's policy in Lebanon.

[Qunaybir] He has always repeated that [Resolution] 1559 was prepared before the extension and it has noting to do - [question incomplete]

[Khaddam] I will touch on this later. He said: What shall we do? You can only confront Resolution 1559 through serious dialogue with the Christian party - with Patriarch [Sfayr], with Qurnit Shahwan - I also gave some names - and bringing Walid Junblatt back.

[Qunaybir] Why was there no dialogue with this Christian party when you were part of the decision-making? Samir Ja'ja was in prison, Michel Awn and Amin al-Jumayyil were in exile, Al-Jumayyil returned to Lebanon later, Patriarch Sfayr made several appeals to implement the Al-Ta'if agreement, but these appeals were not heard. Why were the objections of the Christian party not heard when you were among the decision-makers?

[Khaddam] First, this is untrue. Umar Karami formed the second cabinet when President Elias al-Hirawi was in office. Samir Franjiyah [as heard, he means Samir Ja'ja] is accused of killing the late Prime Minister Rashid Karami. Who convinced Umar Karami to accept Samir Ja'ja as a minister in his cabinet? Samir Ja'ja was a minister in the government of Umar Karami.

[Qunaybir] Before Al-Hariri became the prime minister?

[Khaddam] Yes, in 1991.

[Qunaybir] Samir Ja'ja apologized for not accepting the portfolio and designated Roger Dib.

[Khaddam] Yes, he designated Roger Dib. This did not come from a vacuum. It was the result of a dialogue with the Lebanese Forces, as well as with the other Christian parties. Even when Michel Awn was under the siege, we asked President Al-Hirawi to offer him the Ministry of Defence in the cabinet which he intended to form.

We contacted all parties. I recall I contacted Prime Minister Umar Karami who came to Damascus in the evening. I asked him: What do you think if we ask you to become the prime minister? The man's face became red; he was surprised. He said: Yes, I agree. I told him, however, the government should be a national coalition government in which there will be persons whom you hate. He said: Who are they? I told him: Samir Ja'ja. He frowned and said: What shall I say to Prime Minister Rashid Karami, who was killed by Samir Ja'ja, when I meet him in front of God and he asks me how I included Ja'ja in my government? I told him: You tell Rashid Karami that you accepted him in your government to stop the killing in Lebanon. He was hesitant and leaning towards rejection. So I told him: Do not give me your decision now. Go to Beirut and discuss the matter with your friends and allies before you inform me of your decision. After arriving in Beirut within two hours, he contacted me to say that he agrees to form the government. And the government was formed and Samir Ja'ja and Elie Hubayqah were included in it.

So Syria made great efforts. However, the dialogue and dealing cannot be unilateral. Samir named Roger Dib and differences erupted between Samir Ja'ja and other Lebanese parties. And when Roger Dib left the government Syria did not ask him to leave. We wanted all parties to be represented in the government. Some Lebanese politicians objected to the cabinet formation. We told them: Warlords should be there. How can you end the presence of militias and disarm them while the warlords are outside the government? Warlords should be there to disarm the militias. And this is what happened.

[Qunaybir] Wasn't Ja'ja sent to prison because he foiled the tripartite agreement, which was called the Khaddam agreement?

[Khaddam] The tripartite agreement is something else.

[Qunaybir] So you had nothing to do with sending Samir Ja'ja to prison and with overtaking Gen Awn's positions. Were these Lebanese decisions?

[Khaddam] The decision to take over Awn's positions was a 100 per cent Lebanese decision. President Elias al-Hirawi used to frequently send Khalil al-Hirawi and Antoine Jadid to ask Syria and to put pressure on Syria to send its troops to end the problem of Michel Awn. We told him: We need a cabinet decision to intervene. He summoned the cabinet and adopted a decision. In fact, we were hesitant. We were trying peaceful means. President al-Hirawi reached the stage of resigning. He said: You are in Lebanon to help the Lebanese government. So we intervened to end the problem. Even after the intervention, we proposed that Gen Awn become the minister of defence in the government. We did not overlook any opportunity. We maintained contacts with all parties.

As for the imprisonment of Samir Ja'ja, I have no idea about it. All I know is that he was accused of blowing up the church and then the case of late Prime Minister Rashid Karami was opened. This matter was not discussed on the political level in Syria.

Al-Ta'if Agreement

[Qunaybir] Abd-al-Halim Khaddam: This is a new question which will not be flattering to you. You are accused of freezing the implementation of the Al-Ta'if accord; you say you are one of its co-authors. Why has this accord not been implemented over all these years when you were in charge of the Lebanese file? This is so that we do not blame the Bashar al-Asad regime for all mistakes. It has been said that you were to blame for freezing the implementation of the Al-Ta'if accord.

[Khaddam] First, the Al-Ta'if accord was not frozen. Nonetheless, it was not implemented as it should have been implemented. The Lebanese administration is primarily to blame for this. The Al-Ta'if accord devised a formula for managing the governance of Lebanon. This formula was partially implemented. The Al-Ta'if accord provided for organizing Syrian-Lebanese ties. The Syrian-Lebanese Brotherhood Treaty, which organized these ties, was signed. Was it implemented? The Syrian and Lebanese sides showed negligence in this regard. Were there violations? Yes, there were violations which we and the Lebanese side committed. That is, the Lebanese side of the Al-Ta'if accord was implemented, but partially. With regard to the talk on a national unity government, the Al-Ta'if accord spoke of a national unity government. Such a government, a national unity government, was formed under Prime Minister Umar Karami in 1991. All parties without exception were represented in that government. Afterward, elections were held. It is true that the Election Law was flawed. Nonetheless, elections were held, and these elections produced a Chamber of Deputies in which there was a minority and a majority. The make-up of the governments reflected the political approaches of the blocs represented in the Chamber of Deputies. It goes without saying that most blocs were friendly or close to Syria. Hence, there was the view that Syria tampered with the Al-Ta'if accord. As to whether there was intervention on our part in the formation of governments, yes, we intervened in this matter, but when? This happened when a prime minister was assigned the task of forming a government and the prime minister-designate differed with the president of the republic. Then, the two approached us to help them reach an agreement.

[Qunaybir] Abd-al-Halim Khaddam, with regards to the Syrian side of the accord, why was there no partial Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon whatsoever before 1999, 10 years after the signing of the Al-Ta'if accord?

[Khaddam] No Syrian withdrawal was carried out at that stage for two reasons: as a matter of fact, there was a reason pertaining to Lebanon, and another reason pertaining to Syria. The Lebanon-related reason is that, given that the army was not fully reconstituted, the Lebanese government was afraid of the possibility of the emergence of a security flaw, particularly since we know that there were several issues which could have given rise to tension in Lebanon. The reason that pertains to Syria is that Israeli troops were in southern Lebanon. Nonetheless, I support you in that Syria should have implemented the Al-Ta'if accord and redeployed its troops to the area specified in this accord following the withdrawal of the Israeli troops. When this [the Israeli withdrawal] happened, I was not part of the political decision-making process, particularly with regards to Lebanon. That is because since 1998 I had not been in charge of the Lebanese file.

[Qunaybir] Abd-al-Halim Khaddam: Thank you for this exclusive interview. Thank you for all your answers. Esteemed viewers: Thank you for following the interview.

[Khaddam] Thanks to the Al-Arabiya team for giving me this opportunity to talk on the issues that are of concern to Syrians and Arabs at this stage. I wish you success.

Source: Al-Arabiya TV, Dubai, in Arabic 1900 gmt 30 Dec 05

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