Robert Fisk: In Lebanon, the men do the dying, and the women do the mourning

Click to follow
The Independent Online

They will bury Jibran Tueni today.

"You animals, you insects," the woman screamed in the Greek Orthodox church yesterday as his old father Ghassan leaned forward to shake our hands. "Jibran is still alive. He lives now."

Alas, the editor of An Nahar was assassinated on Monday - his few, atomised remains to be buried today - and his father received mourners in the Ashrafieh district of Beirut, bent over, his frog-dead cold hand gripping bravely each mourner's clutch. What was one to say? To his young wife? A journalist's life is not a happy one? No, indeed.

Of course, lining up in the church's clammy exterior, we talked about the Mehlis report, the "final" - they are all final, aren't they, each "final" UN report on the death of former premier Rafiq Hariri on 14 February this year? - that placed an equally, devastatingly cold hand on Syria for the killing of Tueni's mentor, the Sunni Muslim philanthropist who had so angered Syria that those who control power in Damascus had, if you believe the report, decided to liquidate him.

So where did we start, yesterday, as the chill wintry sun lit up the palm trees on the seafront corniche in Beirut? With the previous report's Syrian witness to the Hariri car bombing who has now retracted - on Syrian television, of course - his evidence to Mr Mehlis, a witness testament which was followed by the arrest of members of his family by Syrian security officials? Or the witness (unnamed, of course) who provided details of "an organised operation aiming at killing Mr Hariri, including the recruitment of special agents by the Lebanese and Syrian intelligence services"?

Then there was the paragraph in the Mehlis report that talked of the detonating device that originated in an "electronic part originated from a laptop personal computer".

Even more intriguing was the engine block of the Japanese truck which contained the explosives which killed Mr Hariri and 20 others on 14 February this year, part of a vehicle stolen from Japan on 12 October 2004. This truck was exported, in parts or whole, to the United Arab Emirates.

How odd. How very odd.

And who was it but Elie Hobeika - war criminal, Phalangist mercenary, Israeli spook that he was - who claimed before his own car-bomb murder (an almost equally efficient killing as Tueni's) that the suitcase that contained the bomb which killed President-elect Bashir Gemayel was made in Japan and shipped to Lebanon from the UAE (aka Dubai) by - let's all hold our breaths - the "Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command". No mention of this Damascus-nurtured institution in the Mehlis report. Or was Mr Mehlis, who presented his learnings to the UN secretary general Kofi Annan in New York, unaware of them?

Mehlis' boys demanded from the Lebanese authorities a complete list of the wiretapped conversations of Hariri between October 2004 to the date of his death but received only "an incomplete portion of telephone intercepts ... of Mr Hariri and his household". These came to just 14 pages - provided, presumably, by Syria's men in Lebanese intelligence. But with Teutonic thoroughness, Mehlis later obtained 26,000 more pages of conversations after December 2004. A call from the mother of a witness and others "provide significant insight into the scope of involvement of key individuals in the assassination as well as the awareness of the Lebanese authorities of the movements and conversations of prominent Lebanese figures." Ouch.

This stuff makes anyone's skin creep, not least the records of a phone call between General Rustum Ghazali, the head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, and Hariri on 3 August last year, about the so-called "Damascus protocol" which was agreed between Hariri and President Assad in Syria, an understanding which allegedly outlined what Hariri could and could not do as Lebanese prime minister.

Here, for those who want to know what it feels like to be seriously bullied, is an extract from this conversation - Ghazali: "Your excellency [sic],I have been reading in Mustaqbal newspaper that 'officials protect the corruption'. This talk is like a violation of the truth ... Didn't we agree to stop the subject?"

Hariri: "...statement was all over the newspapers and in fact I was first..."

Ghazali: "I would like to ask a question. Your Excellency, are you still committed to the agreement?"

Hariri: "Of course."

Ah yes. Of course. Our favourite Lebanese phrase.

The Mehlis team have prowled through 97 million records between 7 and 21 February 2005 and concluded that "fraud, corruption and money laundering could also have been motives for individuals to participate in the operation that ended with the assassination." In this, the UN investigators were clearly interested in the collapse of the Beirut Al-Medina bank in mid-2003 in which Syrian officials had accounts.

And so the Mehlis report goes on. Why was Hariri under surveillance after January 2005, why was his motorcade delayed at a T-junction on 14 February, only minutes before his death?

So we wait for yet another UN report, more arrests, more details of Syria's undying love for Lebanon. And, of course, more assassinations, more funerals, more screaming women in a land where, as it has most famously been written, the men do the dying and the women do the mourning.

Comments