Friday, October 14, 2005

Arab Press Clippings (October 10-14, 2005)

Thanks to Mideastwire.com we have these translations from the Arab press.

Jumblatt describes relations with late Syrian interior minister

On October 13, the Lebanese Broadcasting Channel interrupted its scheduled programming to carry a live news conference with Walid Junblatt, member of the Lebanese Chamber of Deputies and leader of the Progressive Socialist Party.

Jumblatt began by saying that he needed "to give his testimony." He recounted how he came to know Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan. He said: "Ghazi Kanaan was, so to speak, from the old guard. He gave Syria a distinguished Arab and international role.

"We [also] knew him later when Syria intervened to put an end to the wars of abusive militias in Beirut. And when I say abusive militias, of course, I mean the Progressive Socialist Party and other militias that did great harm in Beirut."

Jumblatt went on to say that he knew Major-General Ghazi Kanaan for his "absolute support for national and Islamic resistance." Jumblatt said that Maj-Gen Kanaan did his best "to ease the tension between us, I mean [former Lebanese Prime Minister] Rafik Hariri and me, and the Syrian leadership. He succeeded at certain stages and failed at others."

Jumblatt went on to say that as far as he knew, Maj-Gen Kanaan did not welcome the extension of President Lahoud's term in office. Jumblatt closed by saying: "I conclude by saying if Maj-Gen Ghazi Kanaan is responsible somehow or somewhere for the assassination crime against martyr Rafik Hariri, then he did well, if I may say, by committing suicide. I say and repeat: If he is somehow responsible. All this depends on [UN chief investigator Detlev] Mehlis's report. If he felt that his dignity was insulted, then it [the suicide] was a brave act by a brave man."

Colette Khoury: Kanaan told me he was planning to commit suicide

Al Hayat, a privately owned pan-Arab newspaper, wrote on October 14 that writer Colette Khoury revealed to the newspaper that Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan told her many times that he was planning to commit suicide.

The newspaper reported that Khoury said that Kanaan mentioned his intention to commit suicide “in the presence of a number of leaders, including former Information Minister Mohammed Salman and former Popular Army Chief General Mohammed Ibrahim al-Ali.” The paper added: “Khoury said yesterday that when she told [Kanaan] that suicide was a cowardly act, the late general replied that committing suicide was a courageous move when it involved one’s dignity.” - Al Hayat, United Kingdom

Limited funeral for Kanaan; FM accuses media of contributing to his death

Al Quds Al Arabi, a Palestinian-owned independent pan-Arab newspaper, reported on October 14 that Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan was buried in the family graveyard in his hometown of Hamra, where black flags were hanging off some balconies. Witnesses said that around 1,000 relatives and friends walked behind the coffin, which was wrapped in the Syrian flag, as the General Attorney of Damascus announced that forensics and investigations revealed that Kanaan committed suicide in his office and that he shot himself through the mouth using his favorite American-made revolver.

The paper said: “Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said that the defamation campaign launched by the media, not the government, led to the assassination of Kanaan. He continued saying that when the media uses words then they are like bullets, in reference to a contesting campaign in the Lebanese media.”

The news about Kanaan’s death was the center of attention in Lebanon, since he had been Lebanon’s effective ruler for 20 years. Speculations were numerous about the reasons of his suicide and the degree of their association to the investigations carried out by Prosecutor Detlev Mehlis or his relation with the Syrian regime, or what was said about an American-Syrian settlement over Iraq. Informed Lebanese sources gave two hypothesis over the suicide: the first said that the news broadcasted on New TV, whose source was from Damascus, led Kanaan to understand that he was a scapegoat and would be accused of corruption and involvement in the assassination of Hariri, so he committed suicide.

The second hypothesis held that the Syrian command was upset with Kanaan’s declarations to the Radio Voice of Lebanon, in which he did not defend the Syrian regime, and praised the Lebanese media and its journalists, which was very odd behavior from a Syrian, especially amid the anti-Syrian campaign being carried out currently by the Lebanese media. Kanaan was notified of the command’s anger so he took his own life.

Sources said that the death of Kanaan removes the biggest witness to the Syrian era in Lebanon, and that he was one of the biggest witnesses in the assassination case of his friend Rafik Hariri. The sources asked whether the absence will affect Mehlis’s report or whether Mehlis got what he needed from Kanaan.

It was noted that none of the significant Lebanese figures headed to Damascus to pay their respects, and that no delegation was sent. Furthermore, many observers wondered about the absence of the Syrian president, and why the coffin was not wrapped in the Syrian flag in Damascus, and why Kanaan was not given a medal despite the fact that he was one of the most important soldiers to serve Syria.

Most experts doubted the suicide story. Researcher Joseph Bahoot said that Kanaan would have been a good alternative ruler for Damascus, and that, along with his ties to the West, annoyed the Syrian command. - Al Quds Al Arabi, United Kingdom

Former Syrian army chief denies intention to meet US officials

Al Hayat reported on October 12 that: "Retired Lt-Gen Hikmat al-Shihabi, former chief of staff of the Syrian army, categorically denied his intention to 'give the US Administration information on Syria's security and armed forces.'

"The two moves follow reports that officials in the US Administration and in Lebanon had contacts with Khaddam and Al-Shihabi as part of an attempt to 'make a change in the Syrian regime.'

"In statements to Al Hayat, identical sources said that two US delegations, a security delegation and one consisting of the 'Republican Party warriors,' recently visited Damascus as part of a 'rear-channel diplomacy' after the administration of President George Bush became sure that 'there is no substitute for the Syrian regime' and after some Arab states sought to 'preserve stability' in Syria.

"High-level Syrian sources gave the Al Hayat correspondent the text of a written message signed by Al-Shihabi, in which he denies that he intends to travel to the United States to meet officials in the US Defence Department, the Pentagon.

"Al-Shihabi said in the message: 'The claims about my presence in the United States to give information on my homeland's security and armed forces are baseless.' In the same message, he said that he travelled to Paris "a few months ago for medical treatment.'

"Al-Shihabi signed the letter on October 6, the 32nd anniversary of the October war in which he participated with late President Hafez Assad. Al-Shihabi retired in July 1998." - Al Hayat, United Kingdom

Who will fill Kanaan's post in the regime?

Al Arabiya TV's website reported on October 13 that during the recent events in Damascus, observers wondered who will take Ghazi Kanaan's place within the inner circle of the Syrian regime. Al Arabiya added that observers in Damascus believe that Ghazi Kanaan's disappearance left an empty position that might appropriately be filled by Major General Mohammad Mansoura.

The website said Mansoura is considered the closest person to the late minister and also to late Syrian president Hafez Assad, and hence President Bashar Asad.

A Syrian analyst in Damascus who requested anonymity told Al Arabiya that: "Ghazi Kanaan's absence may not relate to Hariri's assassination, but it might have to do with the conflict over the authority in Syria ... and encourages powerful personalities to seize the opportunity and jump for the throne."

Smuggling prompts Syria to stop supporting energy sector

Syria will lift its support of the energy sector’s prices-including the diesel fuel, gas and electricity prices-and increase the prices of oil products to international levels, the independent Al Wasat newspaper reported on October 11.

The Syrian government has been the sole financial provider for the energy sector over the past four decades. Current annual backing of the sector reached $3.85 billion, out of a total budget of $8.67 billion, Al Wasat stated.

Moreover, smuggling of oil products constitutes a major problem to Syria, recently leading to the the killing of 12 customs officers during gunfights with individuals who were smuggling oil to Lebanon and Turkey. Official sources stated that the amount of diesel fuel smuggled per year reaches two million tons out of the seven million tons that the government imports. In other words, the government is paying $2 billion per year that goes into the smugglers’ pockets, Al Wasat concluded. - Al Wasat, Bahrain

Screening substitutes for the current Syrian regime

Al Arabiya TV's website reported on October 9 that press reports are discussing a possible American-European substitute for the ruling political regime in Syria. US foreign ministry sources spoke of their country's aspirations for a change within the Syrian regime, but not in its system.

The website reported that American parties seek substitutes for the regime in Damascus, and have launched initiatives in that matter like financing newly born Syrian parties, such as the Al-Islah party. Al Arabiya stated that French experts pointed out that France is also attempting to play a role in changing the Syrian regime. The French steps are coming as a result of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which forced Syria's military out of Lebanon.

The website added that a high-level French source said that "Paris doesn't seek to topple the Syrian regime because it sees such a change, in Damascus or any other capital, as an internal issue that can not be imposed from the outside." The website stated that "there are now two choices for the Syrian regime; the first one is the emergence of an Iranian-Syrian coalition, or Assad's following the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in seeking help from the West ...

"Meanwhile, the Muslim brotherhood group was mentioned as a probable substitute for the political regime in Syria due to their ... [being] the most prominent political opponent of the regime," the website said. Ali Sadruddin Al Bianouni, an observer of the group, said: "The Muslim brotherhood aspires to a national substitute for the current Syrian regime, including all political parties," Al Arabiya added. - Al Arabiya.net, Middle East

Syrian minister reacts to US official's remarks on Syrian-Iraqi border
In an October 9 interview with Al Jazeera, Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah responded to recent critical remarks by US Assistant Secretary of State David Welch by saying: "I believe that there is a conviction in Syria now to the effect that there is an intentional US stand towards keeping the issue of the Syrian-Iraqi border an open issue with the aim of pressuring Syria. Otherwise, how can we explain the phenomenon that the US forces are not making any effort to protect the Iraqi side of the border?

"Furthermore, how can we explain that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani speaks very positively about Syria and about Syria's positive support for Iraq, taking into consideration that he is a head of state, at a time when we hear these statements from the US side? ...

"Syria has taken all measures on the Syrian side to protect the borders. I would like to say that the issue is not related to Syria's concern about Iraq's stability and security only, but also to Syria's concern about its own national security. The danger comes from both sides. There is also infiltration into Syria from the Iraqi side, and Syria has arrested many infiltrators from Iraq, who came to wreak havoc in Syria and its security. ...

"I would like to remind the US official of what General George Casey, commander of the US forces in Iraq, said a week ago in a testimony at the US Congress. He spoke about this issue. In addition to this, the International and Strategic Studies Center in Washington has issued a study which says that the percentage of the non-Iraqi fighters in Iraq is only four per cent of the total number of fighters. I am here talking about the resistance, not about terrorism in Iraq.

"Terrorism in Iraq is a phenomenon that has come as a result of the US occupation, and it did not exist in Iraq before. One of the results of the US occupation is this terrible terrorism from which the Iraqi people are suffering. Whether we talk about Lebanon or Palestine, they [the Americans] accuse Syria of [carrying out] resistance in Palestine as if there is no Palestinian people, and accuse Syria of [carrying out] resistance in Lebanon as if there are no Lebanese people who expelled the occupiers from their land. They are talking about Iraq as if there are no Iraqi people, and as if Syria exists in all places and as if these peoples do not exist. This is illogical.

"Therefore, the issue has become clear. It is a part of the vulgar pressures on Syria. This is due to Syria's stand, which is against war, occupation and aggression in this region. This is a principled stand. Syria says that wars do not solve any problem, occupation does not solve and problem, and aggression does not solve any problem, but they all create problems. We should all achieve a real peace, not false peace, as the one we are seeing these days." - Al Jazeera, Qatar

"Damascus inaugurates first flight to Baghdad" (Al Watan)

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