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French Version


Lebanon arrests ex-security chiefs over Hariri murder

Lebanon on Tuesday arrested three former pro-Syrian security chiefs over the murder of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, the first major breakthrough in the probe six months after the attack that sent shockwaves through the nation.

The head of the presidential guard Mustafa Hamdan also turned himself in to UN investigators after Lebanon issued an arrest warrant against him, security sources said.

The three arrested men -- former general security chief Jamil al-Sayed, ex-military intelligence boss Raymond Azar and former internal security head Ali al-Hage -- were also brought before the UN commission.

"These officials will be interrogated as suspects," Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said in a statement he read on television.

Justice Minister Charles Rizk said the arrests were made at the request of the international commission headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis investigating the massive Beirut bomb blast that killed Hariri on February 14.

Several other people were also arrested by Lebanese police and a warrant has been issued for former pro-Damascus minister and MP Nasser Qandil.

However, the statement from Rizk's office said Qandil had not yet turned up.

"He is known to be in Damascus and he was notified that he must present himself" to the commission, it said.

They are the first major arrests in the probe into Hariri's killing, which plunged Lebanon into turmoil and increased the pressure on Syria to pull out its troops in April.

The assassination of the billionaire five-time prime minister was blamed by many in Lebanon on long-time powerbroker Syria and its allies in the Lebanese government at the time.

Damascus has come under mounting international criticism over a failure to cooperate with the UN probe, which has questioned more than 240 people since it was created in April.

Hamdan, who was appointed by Damascus protege President Emile Lahoud shortly after he took office in 1998, was in June questioned as a suspect and his office and house searched by the UN team investigating the murder.

Lahoud himself has long denied allegations of complicity in the assassination and resisted pressure to stand down.

Last week, the UN Security Council called on Syria to fully cooperate after officials complained that requests for documents and interviews had been left unanswered, with the United States calling Damascus's stance "unacceptable".

"There is no doubt... that Syria's lack of cooperation with the Mehlis investigation has considerably slowed down the Mehlis commission's work. This lack of cooperation is unacceptable," the US envoy to the UN John Bolton said.

Since then, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has pledged that Damascus would cooperate with the UN probe, and again denied that his regime had anything to do with the killing.

"We will cooperate fully," Assad said in an interview with German weekly Der Spiegel published on Monday.

"We care about this investigation because we believe that we will be cleared -- unless the findings are skewed by political motive. Syria had nothing to do with this killing, absolutely nothing."

Hariri's killing triggered a major political upheaval in Lebanon and paved the way for legislative elections in May and June which for the first time saw anti-Syrian politicians dominate parliament.

But since the Hariri attack, there have been 11 bomb blasts in Lebanon, and several anti-Syrian figures including a politician and a journalist have been killed.


Key events in Lebanon since Hariri assassination

Lebanon on Tuesday arrested three former pro-Syrian security chiefs over the murder of five-time prime minister Rafiq Hariri. The following are the key events since the attack:

FEBRUARY

14: Hariri, a billionaire businessman who also had Saudi nationality, is killed in a massive bomb blast on the Beirut seafront that also killed another 19 people.
- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime is widely suspected of having a hand in the attack, condemns it as an "odious crime"
- The Lebanese opposition blames the government and its Syrian backers for the murder and calls for a withdrawal of Syrian troops who first deployed in 1976 shortly after the start of the Lebanese civil war.

15: The UN Security Council asks Secretary General Kofi Annan for an urgent report into the assassination and presses Syria to pull out its estimated 14,000 troops.

16: Hariri is buried in Beirut in a funeral that turns into a massive public protest against Syria, the first of many.

24: Syria says it is ready to withdraw troops from Lebanon in line with the 1989 Taef accord that paved the way for the end of the civil war.

28: Prime Minister Omar Karameh tenders his resignation as tens of thousands of opposition demonstrators rally.

MARCH

5: Assad tells parliament Syria will pull back all its troops to the border but does not set a timetable for a full withdrawal.

8: Some 6,000 Syrian troops begin redeploying toward the Bekaa, as Lebanon's pro-Syrian camp led by Hezbollah stages a massive show of force at a rally by some 400,000 demonstrators in Beirut.

23: Three people are killed in one of a string of bombings targeting Christian areas.

APRIL

7: UN Security Council sets up an inquiry into Hariri's assassination after a fact-finding mission blames Syria for tension in Lebanon preceding the attack, but did not speculate who killed him.
- Syria begins final phase of troop pullout

15: Pro-Syrian businessman Nagib Miqati is named prime minister

26: Last Syrian soldier crosses border

MAY

7: Christian hardliner Michel Aoun returns from 15 years exile in France

13: Violence flares on border with Israel for the first time in four months, with Israel launching air raids and destroying Hezbollah positions after rocket attacks near the disputed Shebaa farms.

23: UN verifies that Syria has "fully" withdrawn its troops.

29: First round of elections won by alliance led by Hariri's son Saad.

2: Prominent anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir is killed in a Beirut car bombing

JUNE

5: Hezbollah and Amal coalition wins second round of elections

12: Aoun and his supporters take most seats in third round of election

19: Saad Hariri's electoral lists win final round, giving him and his allies a parliamentary majority

21: Former Communist Party leader George Hawi is killed when his car blows up in Beirut

28: Amal leader Nabih Berri, from the pro-Syrian camp, re-elected parliament speaker

30: Anti-Syrian former finance minister Fuad Siniora is named to head the first government of the post-Syria era

JULY

12: Defence minister Elias Murr is wounded and two other people are killed in a car bomb attack in a Christian suburb of Beirut.

18: Parliament pardons Samir Geagea, the leader of a wartime Christian militia who had been serving a life sentence since 1994.

19: Siniora announces the formation of a new 24-member government including a Hezbollah member serving as energy minister

AUGUST

25: The Security Council calls on Syria to cooperate fully with the international probe into the Hariri murder.

30: The head of Lebanon's presidential guard Mustafa Hamdan and three former pro-Syrian security chiefs turned over to the international commission under arrest warrants.

Beirut 30-08-2005
Redaction
The Daily Star



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