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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Weapons Bound for Saad Hariri and Baniyas, Syria Intercepted in Lebanon

Islamabad—Lebanese army intelligence has intercepted a covert shipment of 1,000 assault rifles, reportedly destined for the city of Baniyas in Syria. According to Arabic daily Al-Akhbar, Army investigators uncovered ties between the smugglers and the political entourage of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Baniyas is one of a number of cities hit by protests against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in the months since the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Syrian regime has mobilized the Syrian army against these protests, stating it was trying to repress violent opposition by armed guerrilla movements.Al-Akhbar published details of the arms shipment to Syria based on Lebanese security sources. According to Al-Akhbar, army intelligence had been notified that two members of the Tamim clan from Tripoli were seeking large quantities of arms to be delivered to Syria. One of the two suspects was the manager of the tourist seaport of Marina, which is administered by Solidere, a real-estate firm founded by the late billionaire and former premier Rafik Hariri, Saad Hariri’s father.Lebanese intelligence eavesdropped on discussions between the suspects and an arms dealer, in which the two sides agreed on a down payment of US$100,000 once buyers were shown high-quality Kalashnikov and M-16 rifle samples. The plan was to either ship the rifles in one batch by sea to Baniyas in Syria, or to divide it into smaller batches and smuggle it through Lebanon’s northern border. The suspects and the dealer were followed and arrested by army intelligence forces on July 30, after delivery of the arms in Ras Beirut.

Arabic daily Al-Safir newspaper quoted a security official: “The recently foiled operation is still under investigation, and there has been highly significant information gleaned from those involved who are affiliated with a prominent tendency in the March 14 alliance.

This is not the only operation that they have carried out.”The March 14 alliance is a coalition of Lebanese political parties hostile to Syria, whose largest member is Saad Hariri’s Al-Mustaqbal (“The Future”) movement. Its name comes from the date of the so-called Cedar Revolution of 2005, a series of US-backed street demonstrations that led the Syrian army to evacuate Lebanon after the assassination of Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005.

Saad Hariri served as prime minister from 2009 to January 2011, when Hezbollah—a Syrian-backed Lebanese Shiite political party and armed militia— left Hariri’s governmental coalition, bringing down his government.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television identified the smugglers as Wassam and Samir Tamim. They have reportedly confessed to running over 30 arms-smuggling operations from Marina to Baniyas with the assistance of Mohammad Kabbara, a member of the Al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc . Al-Manar stated that the center of operations was Kabbara’s farm in northern Lebanon, adding that this was also a transit point for Salafist fighters traveling to the Syrian city of Homs.

The Syrian army claimed last week that in recent fighting near Homs it has detained hundreds of Salafi fighters (reportedly including Afghans) with Lebanese documents, whose transfer to Syria was facilitated by Kabbara.

The Lebanese cabinet met to discuss the arms-smuggling case. There are increasing tensions between political forces inside Lebanon—especially between the US-backed March 14 alliance and the Syrian-backed March 8 alliance formed around Hezbollah.

The discovery of covert arms shipments to Syria by Lebanese politicians comes amid rising pressure by US on President Assad. US officials are warning they may soon issue a statement formally demanding the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

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