BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s relations with Hezbollah were “not warm” before his assassination and reflected tensions with Syrian President Bashar Assad, judges at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon were told Tuesday.
“The blending between Hezbollah’s policies and those of the Syrian regime reached a level preventing the party from taking decisions independent of Syria,” said MP Marwan Hamade, the former economy minister and Hariri adviser, on his sixth day of testimony in The Hague. “Any disagreement with Syria was reflected in the relations with Hezbollah.”
The court also ruled that Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a staunch ally of Hariri and Assad opponent, may be summoned to testify about the assassination.
The decision came as Hamade described in harrowing detail the assassination attempt that targeted him weeks after he opposed the extension of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s term, including how Lebanon’s police mailed him an envelope with pieces of brain matter from his bodyguard, who was killed in the blast.
Defense lawyers also revealed that Mustafa Badreddine, the senior Hezbollah commander indicted in connection with Hariri’s murder, fought alongside Jumblatt’s militia and the Palestine Liberation Organization for two weeks in Ouzai, a neighborhood in south Beirut, against Israel’s 1982 invasion.
Badreddine sustained a wound during the battle that is believed to have caused a permanent limp.
On relations with Hezbollah, Hamade said that Hariri had bestowed “favors” on the party, pointing to his mediation with French President Jacques Chirac in 1996 to arrange the April Understanding that ended Israel’s brutal Grapes of Wrath campaign, which limited the conflict to the military zones in South Lebanon.
“This understanding was a major milestone that made it easier for the resistance to continue its operations in a better environment, culminating in the Israeli withdrawal,” Hamade said.
Hamade’s testimony runs counter to the general belief that Hariri and Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah were close and held frequent meetings before the former’s assassination.
Still, Hamade said Hariri intended to bring about the eventual disarmament of Hezbollah through dialogue and negotiations with the party, not through coercion. He also said that while relations were “not warm,” there were still “normal exchanges” with the party.
Hamade also offered a harrowing, blow-by-blow account of an attempt on his life in October 2004.
He described the “bitter experience” of surviving the car bomb and how his bodyguard was incinerated in the blast.
“Political life should be naked of this sort of violence,” he said.
“It was a normal day, but you suddenly see a white brightness that surrounds you in all directions,” he began. “You see yourself and your colleagues in the car propelled in the air and falling back, with limbs scattered, all within seconds or parts of a second, and you are consumed with a reflexive reaction to save yourself.”
“I tried to escape this hell that the car became and my leg was broken,” he said.
“I crawled on the asphalt to get away from the car as its tank exploded. I called out to my partners.”
While his driver escaped the blast, they could not find his bodyguard.
“We did not even see his corpse in the car,” he said. “We found out later that no corpse was found, that he had almost evaporated in the heat.”
Hamade said the Internal Security Forces later sent a signed envelope containing pieces of the brain of his bodyguard by mail.
Defense lawyers began cross-examining Hamade, asking him whether he personally knew Badreddine, the senior Hezbollah commander that prosecutors allege was the “apex” of the assassination team.
Antoine Korkmaz, Badreddine’s defense lawyer, said the Hezbollah operative fought between 1977 and 1982 alongside Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party militia, as well as the PLO and other leftist nationalist militias.“Badreddine fought side by side with the militia of your own party for more than two weeks in the famous battle of Ouzai,” Korkmaz told Hamade.
But Hamade denied personally knowing Badreddine, saying he was not involved in the military activities of the PSP.
Hamade described the Hariri assassination as a “seismic tremor” that directly led to the sectarian division in Lebanon, persistent economic decline, violence and terrorism.
“This country is going down to the abyss,” he said. “The assassination of Rafik Hariri was a turning point.”
Earlier in the day, Judge David Re, the president of the trial chamber, ruled that Jumblatt’s evidence, which wouldd cover the breakdown of relations between Hariri and Syria, was relevant to the case and could help clarify the motive behind the assassination.
Jumblatt has indicated in the past that he would be willing to testify before the tribunal.
Judges also allowed the prosecution to summon journalist Ali Hamade, Marwan’s brother and a confidante of Hariri, to testify.