Posted by Joshua on Monday, September 3rd, 2007
Shaker Youssef Al-Absi (also spelled Abssi), the fugitive leader of the Fatah al-Islam militants was killed today as he was trying to flee the Nahr el Bared Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon. The army victory today brings to an end the Fatah al-Islam organization, and the life of of its leader Shaker Youssef Al-Absi. Naharnet leads with this:
The Lebanese Army has finished off the Fatah al-Islam legend, killed its leader Shaker al-Abssi and 31 other terrorists and rounded up 20 in the 106th day of the confrontation at the northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared. Security agencies have launched a nationwide manhunt for 10 terrorists who escaped the battle Sunday by infiltrating through the al-Bared River stream.
Prime Minister Saniora, in a televised message to the Lebanese screened late Sunday, praised the army's "sacrifices" and said that its victory against terrorists was equal to the "heroic acts" registered by "resistance fighters" against Israel in south Lebanon. He was referring to the 34-day war between Hizbullah and Israel in the summer of 2006. He stressed that "we are determined to enable the state and its legal forces to be the protector … of the people's security."
(Naharnet) Muallem also reaffirmed Damascus' vehement denial that it had any link to the militant Fatah al-Islam group that had taken over the camp. "This is rejected. We were the first to announce that Fatah al-Islam are terrorists and its leaders are wanted by our security forces," he said.
Syria dominated Lebanon militarily for almost three decades but pulled its troops out under international pressure in April 2005 following the assassination of former premier Rafiq Hariri in February that year. The United States has pointed the finger at Syria for the spate of political assassinations that have dogged Lebanon since then although Damascus has always vehemently denied involvement.
Interestingly, none of the Lebanese sites now say that Absi or Fatah al-Islam are Syrian agents or controlled by Syria; rather, they stress the al-Qaida links of Absi. This is interesting, of course, because most Lebanese officials stated with certainty at the time of the uprising at Naher al-Bared, that the violence was inspired by Syrian hands in order to destabilize Lebanon.
When Army Chief of Staff, Michel Suleiman, stated only two weeks ago that no indication existed that Syria was behind Fatah al-Islam; but rather, it was an al-Qaida inspired organization, (see Fatah Al Islam 'linked to Al Qaeda' ) government officials and Lebanese pundits raised their voices in horror. They lambasted Suleiman for being a Syrian toadie and suppressing the truth in order to position himself as Syrian friendly in order to inherit the presidency in the event that parliament cannot agree on a candidate.
Here are several biographies of Absi by pro-March 14 outlets that appeared yesterday: Lebanon Now, Naharnet, Ya Lubnan. None make the Syrian link outright. On August 20th, the Lebanese courts accused 107 prisoners of belonging to Fatah al-Islam. Among them, there were 62 Lebanese, 36 Palestinians, 5 Saudis, 2 Syrians, 1Tunisian and an Algerian. (See L'Orient Le Jour for the figures.)
Patriarch Sfeir, the Maronite Leader with greatest moral authority, may be responsible for this shift in opinion. Ever since Suleiman suggested he would be prepared to step in as a compromise candidate for the presidency and that he would not permit Lebanon to be have two elected presidents, (which would be the case if one is elected by the governing coalition and another by the opposition), Sfeir has welcomed the idea. He announced that he is not against amending the constitution if the purpose was to rescue Lebanon. He told as-Safir,
"We are living in the heart of the danger, and when we talk about two governments, two presidents and two Lebanons, then we are in danger." He also said that if General Suleiman is the only available solution then he is all for it.
The United States and most elements of the March 14 governing coalition have come out against the Suleiman option, standing on constitutional principle. US Ambassador Feltman said Washington supported a Lebanese President in line with 1559, within the constitutional schedule, and in line with the constitution. At the same time, Feltman said that Washington does not want to get involved in what should be a Lebanese decision.
Suleiman has tweaked the US on a number occasions. In the midst of the fighting at Naher al-Bared, he accused the United States of refusing to assist Lebanon with heavy weapons, which might have ended the fighting weeks earlier and saved Lebanese soldiers' lives. The US has for decades adhered to an unofficial policy of not arming the Lebanese military with heavy or sophisticated weapons for fear they may be used against its ally Israel, former senior Lebanese military commanders pointed out. He also indicated that Lebanon would be forced to purchase heavy weapons from Russia, if the US insisted on protecting Israeli interests over Lebanese.
A second reason why the US and March 14 leaders would not be happy with a Suleiman solution is that they would see it as a Syrian victory and failure for themselves. Although Syria has remained largely silent about Suleiman's candidacy, March 14 politicians have placed him in the Syrian camp.
Lebanon's pro-Syrian president Lahood, appointed Suleiman Chief-of-Staff and has recently used Suleiman's statements to announce that He Would Name Suleiman as a Provisional Successor, if the warring political sides fail to agree on a permanent head of state.
"The constitution is clear and so are our constitutional norms: a President can be elected only if two-thirds of the number of deputies attend the session," the pro-Syrian Lahoud said in a statement issued by his office on Thursday. "Otherwise I have already made a suggestion to appoint a transitional cabinet headed by army commander General Suleiman and comprising six or seven civilians. "The goal of this cabinet would be to draft a new electoral law, hold parliamentary elections and pave the way for the holding of presidential elections."
This suggestion, which goes far beyond anything Suleiman signed onto, seems designed as a tactical ploy. Nabil Bou Monsef of the An-Nahar newspaper, said:
"By making this suggestion he is hinting that the elections are not likely to take place and that it would be out of the question for Saniora's government to take over."
Gen. Suleiman has not said whether he would accept such an appointment, but a high-ranking military official said he was unlikely to agree to anything that would divide the army.
Salim Hoss, a much respected ex-Prime Minister, who has often gained Syria's backing in the past and headed the first government under President Lahood, wrote in an open letter to the president, carried by the state-run National News Agency (NNA): "We believe you are wrong in this choice … You are committing a deadly sin." Proposing an interim cabinet under Gen. Suleiman "would lead to an explosive situation … it would lead to two colliding governments" that of Premier Fouad Saniora and the interim cabinet. Hoss said a solution to the ongoing political crisis lies in "the formation of a government of national unity."
Pro-Hariri papers denounced Lahood's suggestion as tantamount to a coup. Al-Mustaqbal charged on Friday: "Lahoud unveils a plot for a coup: a mixed civilian-military interim government."
Sfeir has not ruled out a Suleiman compromise because his first concern is to maintain a strong presidency. To allow the appointment of two presidents or the continuation of a diminished presidency, as has been the case under Lahood since Syria withdrew its forces, would undermine Maronite authority in the government. The President must be a Maronite, according to the constitution. Since the Taif Accord of 1989, which ended the Civil War, the powers of the presidency were diminished in favor of the office of the Prime Minister, who must be a Sunni.
Having the powers of the presidency further diminished because of on-going political wrangling will weaken all Lebanese, but none more than the Maronites.
Addendum: On the subject of the four Lebanese generals who have been imprisoned without charges since 2005, on suspicion of being involved in the murder of Rafiq Hariri, Patriarch Sfeir has this to say: They must be dealt with immediately, either by bringing charges against them or by "releasing them immediately, … because their incarceration without looking into their matter and without charges is a travesty of Justice."
Even Brammertz, the head of the UN investigation, has criticized the continued imprisonment of the four generals without charges.