A British newspaper yesterday claimed to have found "clear evidence" that Syria assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in an attack that has plunged Lebanon into political chaos.
Two days before the popular politician was killed in a huge bomb blast on Feb. 14, Hariri invited Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader, to his mansion in west Beirut where he had a warning for his old friend, the Times reported.
"He told me that in the next two weeks it was either going to be me or him," Jumblatt said.
"Clearly he thought something was going to happen," he said.
Hariri did not have to wait long. But the explosion that killed him and 18 other people has continued to shake Lebanon over the past month and left Syria increasingly squeezed by the US and its European allies.
Damascus has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack, but the Times said it had unearthed "clear evidence that Syria assassinated Rafiq Hariri" after interviewing at least a dozen Western, Lebanese and Syrian officials.
Hariri had angered the Syrian government by inspiring a UN resolution demanding that Syria stop interfering in Lebanon, the newspaper said, noting that US and UN officials had warned Damascus not to harm him.
The Lebanese government withdrew Hariri's 70-strong security detail under pressure from Syria and immediately after his death the scene of the bombing was swept to remove any evidence of Syrian complicity, the Times said.
no other scenario
"There does seem to be no other scenario," it quoted an anonymous, senior Western diplomat as saying.
Just four days before Hariri's murder, UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, where he tried to persuade him to meet Hariri in a bid to resolve their differences, according to the Times.
"Larsen knew if there was no dialogue, it would end badly," an unnamed UN source told the newspaper.
That same night, Larsen met Hariri for dinner in Beirut and was told that the Lebanese politician was ready to talk to the Syrian leader.
"Two days later Mr Hariri met Mr Jumblatt at his home, and correctly predicted his own death," the Times said.
The daily said that it had interviewed three Syrian ministers, all of whom denied that Damascus had any part in the killing.
"But none put forward a convincing alternative theory, even though Syria has a vast intelligence network in Lebanon that should by now have been able to trace the origin of the assassination team," it said.