Shalom: Syria feels 'noose tightening'

Israel: Minister may have been killed to protect Assad against UN.

ghazi kenaan 298 (photo credit: AP [file])
ghazi kenaan 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
Syria's interior minister, Brig. Gen. Ghazi Kenaan, who was believed to have been questioned by UN investigators on the assassination of a former Lebanese leader, committed suicide on Wednesday, Syria's official news agency said. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Thursday night he hoped that Kenaan was not Syrian President Bashar Assad's “scapegoat.” Shalom claimed that Israel does not yet know the full circumstances leading to Kenaan's death, but noted that there were murder cases in the past that had been presented as suicide. Official sources in Jerusalem doubted that Ghazi Kenaan would commit suicide voluntarily, and he may not have had any other choice. They said that it was a reasonable assumption that this was an attempt to prevent him from revealing incriminating information against Assad. Kenaan's death came days before the United Nations is expected to release its report into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. “Interior Minister Brig. Gen. Ghazi Kenaan committed suicide in his office before noon," the Syrian Arab News Agency reported. "Authorities are carrying out the necessary investigation into the incident." Shalom said the Syrians feel “the noose tightening” in the run up to the release later this month of the final report of a UN investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In addition, Shalom said that Syria supports and uses terrorism, and that that the international community would not relieve the isolation of Syria until it stopped providing refuge and support to terrorist organizations. The news agency did not mention the UN investigation, which is due to issue its report by Oct. 25. Hours before he died, Kenaan contacted a Lebanese radio station and gave it a statement, concluding with the words: "I believe this is the last statement that I could make." He asked the interviewer to pass his comments to other broadcast media. The interior minister in Syria controls the police, but before he was promoted to this position in 2003, Kenaan was Syria's intelligence chief in Lebanon, presiding over Syria's control of its western neighbor. Lebanese newspapers have reported he was among seven senior Syrian officials questioned last month by the UN team investigating Hariri's murder. The other officials included Syria's last intelligence chief in Lebanon, Brig. Gen. Rustum Ghazale and his two aides. The investigators have named as suspects four Lebanese generals who are close to Syria, and they are under arrest. Many Lebanese believe Syria played a role in Hariri's killing. The Syrian government has denied any involvement, but Syria dominated Lebanese political life until mass demonstrations and international pressure forced it to withdraw its troops from Lebanon at the end of April. Herb Keinon contributed to this report