Syria to try former VP for high-treason

Khaddam accused Assad of threatening Rafik Hariri before his assassination.

rafik hariri 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
rafik hariri 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Syria's parliament recommended Saturday that former vice president Abdul-Halim Khaddam be tried for high treason after he claimed President Bashar Assad had threatened a former Lebanese prime minister months before he was assassinated. The bill recommending the trial was passed unanimously at the end of a day-long parliamentary session during which members accused Khaddam of treason and lying. The measure was sent to the Justice Ministry so it could prepare a case against Khaddam. Faisal Kalthoum, head of the parliamentary Constitutional and Judiciary Commitee, said in a statement on Syrian state television that the recommendation was binding on the justice ministry. "According to the law, what Khaddam did constituted treason … that affects Syria's security and safety," he said. On Friday night Khaddam told the pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya TV that Assad warned former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in August 2004 against pushing for a new president in Lebanon. In a long interview with Al-Arabiya, Khaddam quoted the Syrian president as telling Hariri: "You want to bring a (new) president in Lebanon ... I will not allow that. I will crush whomever attempts to overturn our decision." After the warning from Assad, Hariri left with "high blood pressure and his nose bleeding," Khaddam said. Assad planned to extend the term of President Emile Lahoud, a pro-Syrian whom Hariri was known to oppose. MK Danny Yatom, former head of the Mossad, said Saturday morning that "the collapse of the Alawi regime in Syria was hastened" by Khaddam's disclosure that the murder of Rafik al Hariri could have been prevented. "Khaddam has confirmed suspicions that President [Bashar] Assad was behind the murder of Hariri and other objectors," Yatom said. In the Syrian parliament, which is dominated by government supporters, numerous legislators called Khaddam a traitor. As with the media, Khaddam's original remarks were not repeated, but alluded to. "I demand that Khaddam stand trial for conspiracy against the motherland," shouted a female legislator, Suad Bakkour. Speaker Mahmoud Al-Abrash told the assembly that the parliament's switchboard had been choked by calls from citizens who wanted Khaddam to be prosecuted for treason. Khaddam, who became vice president in 1984, resigned in June. He was the nominal leader of Syria for a short period between the death of Assad's father, Hafez Assad, in June 2000 and Bashar's taking power. Khaddam was also Syria's point man in Lebanon for many years until 1998. A close friend of Hariri, he was the only Syrian official to attend his funeral. In the Al-Arabiya interview, Khaddam strongly criticized Assad's government, saying the ruling Baath Party had been reduced to vindicating "decisions made by the president." He also said the government had made many mistakes. Khaddam said he was not accusing Syria of complicity in Hariri's assassination. He said finding the culprits was the business of the UN commission, in which he had full confidence. Khaddam's criticism reflected serious cracks within the Damascus regime and brought to the open a simmering power struggle within the leadership. Syria's push for the three-year extension of Lahoud's presidency in September 2004 - which required a constitutional amendment - is considered by many as the beginning of a crisis in Lebanese-Syrian relations that led to Hariri's assassination and the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon in April.