Murder of Mr Lebanon continues to poison political air

By Robert Fisk in Beirut

The Independent

16 March 2005

So now 'they' have left Beirut. In the dark doorway of the Syrian mukhabarat office off Sadat Street, where for years armed men have guarded their little suburban headquarters, a middle-aged lady was washing the floors and sweeping rivers of black water into the road. "They've gone," an old Druze man shouted from the other side of the road. Their cheerful graffiti in praise of President Bashar Assad had already been spray-painted out in black paint.

At the larger Syrian intelligence headquarters in Ramlet el-Baida, where those who entered often emerged with bruises on their bodies - although for years now, it had been a listening post rather than an interrogation centre - furniture was piled onto trucks, pictures of Bachar and his father Hafez taken down. There was no ceremony. Like so much history in Lebanon, what had been here for decades was simply here no more.

But another of Syria's former loyal allies here, Mohsen Dalloul, a Zahle MP who was also a defence minister, has now accused the Lebanese government of being complicit in the murder of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri. "Its slyness, absence and ignorance prove its guilt," he said, adding damningly than he knew who tried to assassinate Druze leader Walid Jumblatt's friend Marwan Hamade, last October - without naming names.

Mr Dalloul also claimed that the government here had made a decision "to deprive Hariri of government security measures a few days before his assassination." He quoted an unidentified official as saying that "Hariri was rich enough to rent security services for himself."

In fact, Mr Hariri had for years been using his own carefully chosen bodyguards. And so the drip-drip of evidence about the murder of Mr Lebanon continues to poison the political air, just as it further diminishes what is left of President Lahoud's prestige.

Outside the American embassy in Aukar yesterday, a few thousand Lebanese pro-Syrian demonstrators protested US policy in the Middle East and the American-backed UN Security Council Resolution 1559 which forced Syria to begin its military withdrawal from Lebanon. But after an hour, the crowds left and Beirut remained, peaceful but without a government for the 29th day since Hariri's murder.