Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, September 26th, 2006
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.