Brammertz, Opposition Releases, and Israeli Talks

Three interesting bits of news today:

First, the Brammertz Report – news agencies that have perused the report are saying it is a bust, again. The same old reheated beans with a dash of salt and pepper. The operative line in the Reuters article was ” Brammertz’s latest report was mainly technical and did not offer conclusions on who ordered the killing.” There were plenty of lines, such as, The commission has identified a considerable number of new leads for investigation relating to the crime scene, its vicinity and the immediate perpetration of the crime, and has begun investigative and analytical work on each one them,” said the report given to Reuters by a Lebanese political source. Agence France Press, quotes a Middle Eastern diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, who said that the lack of new evidence “was due in part to the fact that the Brammertz-led enquiry panel had to leave Beirut for Nicosia in July when war broke out in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas, which hampered its work. The panel is now back in Beirut.” 

Before these early reviews of the report appeared, a number of analysts had emailed about the report by the Saudi paper Okaz on Monday, which claimed that the new Brammertz report would be sensational. It would name high-level Syrian officials, including intelligence chiefs Bahjat Sulaiman and Asef Shawkat, as suspects. The article insisted that Brammertz had cracked the case wide open by obtaining gobs of new information from a secret video tape made by Ghazi Kanaan shortly before he “committed suicide”. The sensational Kanaan tape story had been reported over a month ago by “unnamed Saudi diplomats”. Anyway, none of this turns out to be true.  

John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, has tried to spin the non-report as best he can by pointing to the fact that the UN is progressing in establishing guidelines for an international trial. Brammertz has also stressed that he is trying to bring evidence up to standard so it will hold up in a court. Bolton also pointed to the line in the report that suggests that later murders in Lebanon are now being linked to the Hariri assassination.

For Syria the anxiety will continue. Nevertheless, during the days preceding each new interim report, we get miles of spin, most of which turns out to be pure black propaganda. There is nothing new of real substance in this 4th interim UN report on the Hariri murder. Brammartz is supposed to finish his investigation by June of 2007, at which point all his evidence would be turned over to an international court of law. The Beirut government has yet to finalize its acceptance of the shape of the international court, how many Lebanese judges must be included on it, and how they would be selected. This means that Hizbullah and pro-Syrian Lebanese politicians retain some leverage over the court and its ultimate complexion. When Bolton threatens that the court is all set up and ready to go to work, he is not telling the whole truth. With the Lebanese government further weakened as a result of the Lebanon war, the entire court process is also weakened, because Lebanon has not abandoned all control over the process to the Security Council.

Second, opposition leaders in Syria were released from jail – Mahmoud Issa, Khalil Hussein and Suleiman al-Shammar were let go. Now eight of the original 10 arrested signers of the Damascus-Beirut Declaration are free. Michel Kilo and Anwar al-Bunni will be prosecuted, it seems, because they are by far the most prominent. Kilo has been at the forefront of all the recent Declarations and has spearheaded the attempts to unify the opposition within Syria with those in exile. He owns the present drive to turn the opposition into an effective force. If he is set free, he will go to work again. Some time ago, Kilo made the decision to take his efforts as far as he could, upping the pressure on the government little by little. I fear the Syrian government will not let him out of jail for some time.  On the whole, the opposition’s Lebanon gambit has failed miserably. The Lebanon War this summer turned Syrians against the pro-Hariri and anti-Hizbullah politicians. The secular opposition’s attempts to ally with pro-American Lebanese against their government can only turn back against them. It is the price of America ‘s being so unpopular. Here is what Reuters has to say

Syrian authorities released on Monday three signatories of a declaration that had criticized state policy toward Lebanon but left two leading dissidents behind the document in jail, human rights organizations said.  Communist politician Mahmoud Issa, Kurdish dissident Khalil Hussein and labor activist Suleiman al-Shammar were released on $20 bail, they said. “There is no intention of putting them on trial, unlike the last two signatories in prison,” Ammar al-Qurabi, president of the National Organization for Human Rights, told Reuters.  Ten dissidents were arrested in May after signing the Damascus-Beirut Declaration, which urged the government to mend ties with Lebanon that have been damaged since last year’s assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. 

Eight of the 10 have since been released while prominent lawyer Anwar al-Bunni and writer Michael Kilo remain in jail.  

Third, reports that Olmert’s people have been meeting with high level Saudis to talk about strategies for developing dialogue have been the subject of intense speculation. More importantly for Syria , the Israeli press has explained that Syrian and Israeli officials met at the beginning of the Lebanon war this summer to clarify war goals. Asad had been trying the renew negotiations with Israel . Here is the UPI story.  

Syria, Saudi, Israel meetings alleged   Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot broke the news Monday, quoting a Washington-based foreign political source who noted that “the aim of the meeting was to coordinate moves and exchange clarifications that neither side intended to re-ignite the dormant front between Israel and Syria .” The source said the meeting took place towards the end of July, a couple of weeks after Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers, sparking the 34-day long war which began July 12.  According to the newspaper, the two sides “also discussed ideas for resuming dialogue for achieving a political settlement.” 

It said a few months before the war on Lebanon , ” Syria approached Israel three times through mediators in order to renew political negotiations,” but the Jewish state rejected the Syrian request.  “In return, Israeli warplanes circled above Syrian President Bashar Assad’s palace in the coastal city of Latakia on the Mediterranean Sea ,” the paper said.  

Yossi Beilin said Israel’s refusal to explore Syria’s reported peace overture is a “diplomatic dereliction of duty.” A former Israeli foreign minister in the Israeli Labor Party, Beilin said Israel’s lack of response to Syria reflected a “blindness” on the part of conservative Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Israel’s Army Radio reported Sunday.  

“If Olmert continues to tread the path of blindness and arrogance, this will lead us into another armed confrontation,” Olmert was quoted as saying by the Ha’aretz news agency.  Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualem last week said the war in Lebanon “created a genuine opportunity for peace and for solving the problems of the region.” Olmert did not immediately respond to Beilin’s comment. 

Amoz Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, Israel ‘s most famous writers, and Nobel Chemistry Prize laureate Aaron Ciechanover led a group of 68 well-known Israeli authors, academics and retired generals in called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to open peace negotiations with the Palestinians’ Hamas rulers, Syria and Lebanon . The petition is the first sign of an organized effort to prod Olmert into negotiations since a month long war against the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon ended last month. “We strongly recommend that he make all efforts to reach an arrangement with Syria and Lebanon and the Palestinians,” another signatory, former Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat, said Monday.  

Comments (20)


1. Idaf said:

Middle East Policy has just published an updated “Israel Lobby” paper by Mearsheimer and Walt.. The whole paper is a must read. This is what the part on Syria says.

THE ISRAEL LOBBY AND U.S. FOREIGN POLICY
John J. Mearsheimer, Stephen M. Walt
MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XIII, NO. 3, FALL 2006

Dr. Mearsheimer is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. Dr. Walt is a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Gunning for Syria

Israeli leaders did not push the Bush administration to put the screws on Syria before March 2003; they were too busy pushing for war against Iraq. But once Baghdad fell in mid-April, Sharon and his lieutenants began urging Washington to target Damascus. On April 16, for example, Sharon and Shaul Mofaz, his defense minister, gave high-profile interviews in different Israeli newspapers. Sharon, in Yedioth Ahronoth, called for the United States to put “very heavy” pressure on Syria. Mofaz told Ma’ariv, “We have a long list of issues that we are thinking of demanding of the Syrians, and it is appropriate that it should be done through the Americans.” Sharon’s national security adviser, Ephraim Halevy, told a WINEP audience that it was now important for the United States to get rough with Syria. The Washington Post reported that Israel was “fueling the campaign” against Syria by feeding the United States intelligence reports about the actions of President Bashar al-Asad. Prominent members of the lobby made the same arguments after Baghdad fell. Wolfowitz declared, “There has got to be regime change in Syria.” Richard Perle told a journalist, “We could deliver a short message, a two-word message [to other hostile regimes in the Middle East]: ‘You’re next’.” In early April, WINEP released a bipartisan report stating that Syria “should not miss the message that countries that pursue Saddam’s reckless, irresponsible and defiant behavior could end up sharing his fate.” On April 15, Yossi Klein Halevi wrote a piece in The Los Angeles Times entitled “Next, Turn the Screws on Syria.” The following day, Zev Chafets wrote an article for the New York Daily News entitled “Terror-Friendly Syria Needs a Change, Too.” Not to be outdone, Lawrence Kaplan wrote in The New Republic on April 21 that Syrian leader Asad was a serious threat to America. Back on Capitol Hill, Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) had reintroduced the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act on April 12. It threatened sanctions against Syria if it did not withdraw from Lebanon, give up its WMD and stop supporting terrorism. It also called for Syria and Lebanon to take concrete steps to make peace with Israel. This legislation was strongly endorsed by the lobby — especially AIPAC — and “framed,” according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, “by some of Israel’s best friends in Congress.” It had been on the back burner for some time, largely because the Bush administration had little enthusiasm for it. But the anti-Syrian act passed overwhelmingly (398-4 in the House; 89-4 in the Senate), and Bush signed it into law on December 12, 2003. Yet the Bush administration was still divided about the wisdom of targeting Syria at that time. Although the neoconservatives were eager to pick a fight with Damascus, the CIA and the State Department were opposed. Even after Bush signed the new law, he emphasized that he would go slowly in implementing it. Bush’s ambivalence is understandable. First, the Syrian government had been providing the United States with important intelligence about al-Qaeda since 9/11 and had also warned Washington about a planned terrorist attack in the Gulf. Syria had also given CIA interrogators access to Mohammed Zammar, the alleged recruiter of some of the 9/11 hijackers. Targeting the Asad regime would jeopardize these valuable connections and thus undermine the larger war on terrorism. Second, Syria was not on bad terms with Washington before the Iraq War (it had even voted for U.N. Resolution 1441), and it was no threat to the United States. Playing hardball with Syria would make the United States look like a bully with an insatiable appetite for beating up Arab states. Finally, putting Syria on the American hit list would give Damascus a powerful incentive to cause trouble in Iraq. Even if one wanted to pressure Syria, it made good sense to finish the job in Iraq first. Yet Congress insisted on putting the screws to Damascus, largely in response to pressure from Israeli officials and pro-Israel groups like AIPAC. If there were no lobby, there would have been no Syria Accountability Act, and U.S. policy toward Damascus would have been more in line with the U.S. national interest.
..

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September 26th, 2006, 3:42 pm

 

2. t_desco said:

L’Orient-Le Jour has some extraits du rapport Brammertz.

It may be a “bust”, but there are many interesting details. I will comment once the complete report is available.

Tarek,

I could be wrong, but it is my impression that Brammertz is simply very professional and systematic in his approach to the investigation (“milking the cow”…). In December he will have to show his hand. Then we will see…

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September 26th, 2006, 5:49 pm

 

3. why-discuss said:

IDAF

The document you mention do no exist. Maybe a bad link? Thanks

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September 26th, 2006, 7:27 pm

 
 

5. Atassi said:

This last report is still speculating the events leading to the Harrie killing. We should not start drawing a conclusions of things to come, since It’s obvious the team is working diligently to trap the killers. With the regime agreeing to the reports and calling the investigation works done by the team as a professional and fair, They will may get trapped in their words later on.

Watch-out !!

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September 26th, 2006, 8:06 pm

 

6. Fares said:

Joshua, how can you keep justifying Kilo’s arrest!!! you must be running the baath party by now

http://freesyria.wordpress.com/2006/09/26/divine-victory/

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September 26th, 2006, 9:18 pm

 

7. Abhinav Aima said:

It is interesting that the report does not offer more information on the alleged Syrian connection in the Hariri assassination… Details about the suicide bomber should provide an insight into the nature of the new radical Sunni terror groups operating in Lebanon – probably from Palestinian refugee camps… Given that some radical Sunni groups in the camps are funded by Saudis, it is also interesting that Saudi Arabia is anxious to have Syria held responsible for Hariri’s murder.

If the report is ultimately going to nail Syria, and is not going to be released in full till December, then this might give the Bush administration new cause to energize its campaign to spread the GWOT into Syria – especially if Republicans retain majorities in both houses of Congress.

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September 26th, 2006, 9:38 pm

 

8. Syrian said:

Fares,

Where did Joshua justify Kilo’s arrest? Did I misread this article???

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September 26th, 2006, 11:22 pm

 

9. norman said:

It is amasing how the US gov could be so ubgratefull less than two weeks since protecting the US embasey Miss rice calls for more sanctions against Syria ,I am ashamed to have a gov like this gov to represent the great people of the United states.

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September 27th, 2006, 2:52 am

 

10. American Lebanese said:

How can you justify the arrest of Mr. Kilo you must be smoking somr good Lebanese Haheesh

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September 27th, 2006, 3:42 am

 

11. Fares said:

“Now eight of the original 10 arrested signers of the Damascus-Beirut Declaration are free. Michel Kilo and Anwar al-Bunni will be prosecuted, it seems, because they are by far the most prominent. Kilo has been at the forefront of all the recent Declarations and has spearheaded the attempts to unify the opposition within Syria with those in exile. He owns the present drive to turn the opposition into an effective force. If he is set free, he will go to work again. Some time ago, Kilo made the decision to take his efforts as far as he could, upping the pressure on the government little by little. I fear the Syrian government will not let him out of jail for some time.”

Syrian, that is the exact position of the Syrian regime and they think that Kilo is the key to a successful opposition, therefore they keep him in Jail. Joshua has smartly condonned his arrest, don’t be fooled by the word “I fear” it just put the salt on the wound. If he was for Kilo’s freedom he could have written his analysis in a much different way. Syria comment should be called Baath Comment and Josh is transforming himself into Buthaina Shaaban.

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September 27th, 2006, 3:49 am

 

12. Alex said:

Fares,

I understand your frustrations, but believe me Joshua is not defending the continued arrest of Michel Kilo. I know you feel he is supposed to use words that show how angry he is at the Syrian authorities for Kilo’s case, but no one is very involved in the case. I know other journalists who write passionately against these things, but in reality they did not bother to do anything to help when they were asked to.

So, just like most others who write more passionately about Michel Kilo, Joshua is not a full-time freedom fighter. They are all, to some extent, detached from the issues they cover … otherwise they will fall into a serious depression everytime they cover the 100 poor people killed in Iraq and Sudan everyday.

The difference is writing style, not Baath party membership.

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September 27th, 2006, 4:21 am

 

13. Syrian said:

Fares,

I would certainly hope that Mr. Kilo believes that he is instrumental to the success of the opposition. If he did not believe that then he was working for nothing. For the government to believe that would simply reinforce the purpose for which he worked all these years; to be successful in promoting and unifying the opposition.

Here is the same segment you bolded with Syrian in place of Kilo

Syrian has been at the forefront of all the recent Declarations and has spearheaded the attempts to unify the opposition within Syria with those in exile. He owns the present drive to turn the opposition into an effective force. If he is set free, he will go to work again

Now the reality is that I can only wish that someone would say that about me. While that maybe the logic the Government uses to keep Kilo and others in prison, it is not their position. Their position is Mr. Kilo is “weakening
national morale” and “inciting sectarian strife.” (2 of the charges against the activist.) Neither charge appears nor is endorsed anywhere in this document!!

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September 27th, 2006, 4:54 am

 

14. idaF said:

why-discuss, thanks.. late-night coding!

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September 27th, 2006, 8:21 am

 

15. Innocent Criminal said:

unrelated to the topic but i thought its worth a read

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/earlywarning/2006/09/the_nie_the_president_and_the.html

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September 27th, 2006, 3:16 pm

 

16. ausamaa said:

Alex,

What ” full time freedom fighters” are you talking about for God’s sake. You may be jocking, but those guys may take it seriously. We keep going this once and again. You all want to get serious about improving things in Syria and even changing the regime? Right, is this not what they want? Fine, go to Syria, build a grass root movement, struggle, organise, build political structures, build mass movements. Build a base.Then start talking about CHANGE. Only then, only when you have on hand what will BRING change you will get change. Otherwise. It is all just talk.
Kaillo, Baynoni, Ghaderi, Bunni or whatever colour is a mere apperation that is serving three so far ineffective ends: 1)Providing the neo-cons of Clean Break, or the New Midle East supporters with ammo against the regime, 2)Misleadding the consistently ignorant US Admin into thinking that Syrians are in total revolt and will “welcome” leberators with flowers in a repeat of the Iraqi lie, and 3) forcing the regiem which (is under enemy fire for reasons that does not have anything to do with Syria’s well-being or progress) to take a harder stand against the ineffective opposition and the unwise opportunistic libarls (regardless of wether their cause is right or wrong, and regardless if they are self motivated or motivated by someone else).

I guess that you and I, and George W. Bush, that we regime is very solid internally and that it can not be changed by the ineffective lacal or foriegn based opposition. It can not be changed by outside intervention even by the calculations of trigger-happy neocons. Can you just consider the fact that Syria is practically surrounded by unfriendlies from all sides, that it has been under some sort of sanctions or another for as long as we can remember, that it has been in the cross-hairs of the so called “international community” thanks to the US Admin control over the Security Council for years, and that its army has not gone a major refurbishment since years, yet no one is “Seriously” thinking about doing something about it. Given the above; any serious action against Syria by its current enemies the US and Israel should be a calk-walk. Right. It is made appear so. Sooooo, why NOTHING SERIOUS is done against Syria. Why did Israel kept sending assurances to Syria that it will not attack it during the 33 day war against Lebanon, when both Israel and the US needed anything to save thier faces. Why did Israeli planes not overfly Assad’s palace then. If even for the sake of “appearing” thier ususual invincible power. Why Does Anan visit the “pariah state” Syria? Why peace talks with Syria are gaining monentum in Israel, and the US even? Big Whys and really Easy Why Nots. The Why Nots include a variety of reasons. Both obgective and subgective. Has occured to those “full time freedom fighters” that it is because Syria is strong. Maybe because the internal front is solid and behind its leader in this time of crisis. Because the country is militarily unshakable. As simple as that can be, although many refuse to accept those facts. Because, like it or not, the people are on the regime’s side, and the Army is not trully a rusted machine. Maybe because the Opposition is nonexistant or is practically ineffective? Which brings us again to Killo, Bunni, Baynoni, Ghaderi, and Khaddam if you like. That they represent nothing except their postal addresses abroad, and that they mean nothing in political terms. That maybe because Syrian people see that they are no more than a Chalabi Style bunch?

Maybe because they are politically stupid and naieve and have been used as a cat’s claw and have behaved opportunistically.

Ask me Why? I will give a small example. This Killo or the others who were jailed for signing the pro-Lebanese thing, was it not wiser for them to get in a taxi, go to Bierut, and try to mend fences, and knock some sense into the empty heads of the Al Harriri gang rather than join the newly turned anti Syrian “progressive, transparent, patriot, 14 Feb coalitiong” in criticizng the Syrian regime? Could they have stood up to the ugly stastements made by the 14 Feb circus in Lebanon, which have crossed all moral, and let us be frank, allowable and forgivable lines, in attacking the Syrian regime and the Syrian People? Did they even “think” about issuing a timely statement condemning the treatment of the poor Syrian workers in Lebanon of whome tens were slaughtered by the incitement of the 14 Feb brave soles? Could they not have used thier sense of Liberalisem and realisem, to mend the bridges and cool down things on the Lebanese side? The smaller side? The side that can not survive without Syria’s? Couldnt they have done such things before “sypathising, or even emphasizing” with thier Lebanses counterparts. At least, they would have gained some credibility. Instead they chose confrontation. They chose what they thought to be “heroic speech” at the expense of “cool headed” reconcilment with the regime. They chose publishing stupid artclis such as Killo’s about the “stricking differences” in the Obituary notes hung on the streets of Syria, as if Syria is the only country were the Army is composed primarily of the countryside people, while the mrchant and mrcantile class come from the city. An article I found most despicable and one that would result in causing a rift in any society. And they did all this at a time when they are not in the regime’s league neithr in popularity, nor in understanding the true scale of the big game. They just acted irresponsibely, period. Good intentionally? A few maybe. The rest, forget it: stupid opportunists, no more no less. So much for the words “full time freedom fighters” which you have used to describe some people, the ignorant self proclaimed “progress seeking elietests” enough to count on the wishes of outsiders to change thier own socities. Or dream about changing a society where the social and political temperment runs against such a change at such a time in its development. If those “full time freedom fighters” is what is awaiting Syria’s future, hell, I will choose even Waleed Junblat over them if I had a choice.

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September 27th, 2006, 3:28 pm

 

17. Atassi said:

The truth is that this place is for FREE comments, everyone in this space should be entitled to express his\her opinion, My advice to you, leave this site if it’s too painful and you can’t handle other commentators opinions, By the way, I am not Joshua.. Just in case

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September 27th, 2006, 3:29 pm

 

18. Alex said:

AMEEND, no I am not Joshua.

But to answer your second question, This character is the real Joshua.

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September 27th, 2006, 3:38 pm

 

19. ahmed said:

i thought this was a pretty interesting article:
http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3308755,00.html

Assad: Syrians, return to Golan Heights

Roee Nahmias
Published: 09.27.06, 13:09

A presidential decree published by Syrian President Bashar Assad offers monetary incentives to citizens returning to reside permanently on the “occupied” Golan Heights with the objective of “supporting the resilience of our people on the Golan and encouraging others to return.”

it goes on……

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September 27th, 2006, 8:55 pm

 

20. raf* said:

ya josh,

first of all: the “comments” link is buried among all those other links at the end of your posts. is there any way to change that in terms of layout?

2nd – why do you call the latest brammertz report a “non-report”? only ’cause it fails to prove that bashar al-assad himself pulled the trigger? it’s a scheduled report by an investigative team doing its work. brammertz hadn’t promised any revelations beforehand, & neither had anyone else actually connected to the investigation.

of all the media in the region, you use “okaz” to show how “wrong” the pundits are??? what’s next – “al-siyaasah” (kuwait)???

i truly don’t get why you keep gloating that the investigators can’t prove the (syrian) ba’th party’s culpability.

why do you even CARE about that regime?

so what if they haven’t killed hariri, or if they haven’t had a hand in any of those assassinations in lebanon last year. would that make the regime ANY less bad?

that’s like saying “ohhhh … hitler actually didn’t have anything to do with the destruction of greece, he only killed all those other dozens of millions of people” or “stalin had nothing to do with trotsky’s death” or “saddam didn’t do the anfal campaign” — all of them have moved wayyyyy beyond the red line for decent political/human behavior.

and the same goes for the syrian ba’th regime.

it is responsible for so much death & destruction, slaughter and theft, intimidation and political interference in lebanon that the question of wether it ALSO blew up hariri really is a technicality. unfortunately – for lebanon – it’s the ONLY one that the world community cares about. and hence it’s lebanon’s ONE chance to get at least a symbolic token of justice.

but the syrian regime in & of itself is a (rather ordinary) dictatorship that has no legitimacy and is merely using people like you to “show that the progressive people in the world are with us”.

josh, you’re smarter than that.

–raf*

http://www.aqoul.com

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September 27th, 2006, 10:22 pm

 

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