Druze leader Walid Jumblatt (radiofarda.com)
The Syrian government was responsible for the assassination yesterday of Lebanon’s Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel and will likely attempt more killings with the goal of destabilizing Lebanon, the country’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt told WND in an interview today.
Jumblatt is head of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party and is widely considered the most prominent anti-Syrian Lebanese politician.
He charged the calls by many in the U.S. government for a withdrawal from Iraq sent a message of American weakness to Syria that may result in “more instability and chaos” in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East.
“The Syrian regime through some of its local allies carried out this assassination,” said Jumblatt. “They (the Syrians) are capable of anything. They will probably try more killings. We still have a majority in the parliament unless ministers resign or Syria kills more ministers off.”
Jumblatt said Syria is “emboldened by the fact that the Americans are searching for an exit strategy from Iraq. This is encouraging all kinds of people to kill and create chaos in the region.”
Lebanon today cancelled celebrations that were to mark 63 years of its independence, instead calling for three days of mourning for Gemayel, the son of former Lebanese president Amin Gemayel. Pierre Gemayel was the sixth anti-Syrian politician to be killed in nearly two years.
Jumblatt said Syria was seeking to cause a deterioration in Lebanon’s security situation to intimidate the anti-Syrian majority of Lebanon’s parliament and to ensure against a tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, who was assassinated in a car bomb in February 2005.
Syria has been widely blamed for the Hariri assassination, which prompted a general Lebanese uprising that resulted in the removal of Syrian forces that were present in Lebanon for nearly 30 years.
Yesterday’s assassination followed Hezbollah’s bolting of the Lebanese government, which threw into crisis the composure of the majority anti-Syrian Lebanese parliament. Hezbollah departed the government just before the Lebanese cabinet met to approve U.N. statutes to try Hariri’s killers.
Five Shi’ite Muslim ministers from Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal movement, resigned over the collapse of talks on their demands for effective veto power in the parliament. Hezbollah had demanded one third of the cabinet’s 24 seats, prompting some ministers to accuse the militia of seeking veto rights to protect Syria from prosecution in the Hariri affair.
Hezbollah has threatened street protests unless their demands for veto power are met.
Calls for Iraq withdrawal pave way for Mideast ‘chaos’
Last week in a WND interview, Jumblatt connected what he said was Hezbollah’s emboldened attitude to calls for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and a change in America’s Middle East policy, which he warned could create “havoc” in the region.
Hezbollah’s departing parliament “could not have happened without Syria’s backing,” Jumblatt said.
He said Syria was taking advantage of the “changes in attitude” in the U.S., where many see the Democrats’ victory in midterm elections earlier this month as setting the stage for an eventual withdrawal from Iraq.
Jumblatt said President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was “the right thing to do,” but stressed an early evacuation would send the wrong signals to Syria and Iran, and could result in regional instability.
“The Syrians play this game where they have been waiting for the Americans to get weaker in Iraq,” said Jumblatt. “Now with the Democrat’s win paving the way for an American withdrawal … the Syrians believe they have the upper hand in the region to retake Lebanon.”