Lebanese commemorate the fourth anniversary of the assassination of
former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri over the weekend. He was killed in a
bomb explosion in Beirut on February 14, 2005, and many blame the
attack on neighboring Syria. Relations with Damascus are still a contentious issue four years later.
It was the moment that brought change to Lebanon's relations with Syria.
Hariri was traveling near Beirut's seafront when a massive truck bomb
was set off as his convoy passed, killing him and 22 others.
Hariri was the self-made business tycoon who dominated Lebanese
politics from the early 1990s and served twice as prime minister. He
is widely credited with helping rebuild Beirut after a 15-year civil
war. Many say his falling out with Syria over its presence in Lebanon
may have led to his death.
His assassination shocked Lebanon and
the international community and rallied hundreds of thousands of
Lebanese who took to the streets to demand the withdrawal of Syrian
Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon's Druze
minority, says the assassination did change things.
it was the blood of Hariri that led the Syrians to leave Lebanon,
officially," he said.
Syria pulled its 14,000 troops out of
Lebanon within a few months after the assassination, ending a 29-year
deployment. It did so amid public pressure from inside Lebanon and a
U.N. resolution demanding their withdrawal.
Karim Makdisi, who
teaches international relations at the American University of Beirut,
says the Syrian withdrawal and the new formal diplomatic ties between
Beirut and Damascus mark a new era.
"It is excellent, it is what
both countries need at this point after many years of instability," he
said. "It is something that both peoples need, so not just the
governments but the people need some measure of stability and normalcy
in the coming years."
But not everyone was pleased. Following
the Hariri assassination, Lebanon's Shia militant group, Hezbollah,
rallied its supporters and took to the streets in pro-Syrian
Hezbollah member of parliament, Nawar Sahili,
says the Syrian relationship is very important. But, he insists it does
not dictate Lebanon's internal affairs.
"I'm proud of this relation, but this relation stops when we begin discussing internal Lebanese problems," said Sahili.
political science professor Hilal Khashan of the American University of
Beirut disagrees. He says while the Syrian troops may have left, Syria
still interferes in Lebanon's affairs.
"The Syrian influence has
not waned since the departure of the Syrian army from Lebanon," said
"They continue to have a veto power. Nothing can happen in
Lebanon unless the Syrians approve of it. They have their people; they
have their supporters; their intelligence agencies are still completely
intact; they know a whole lot more about the security situation in
Lebanon than the Lebanese internal security forces," he added.
troops helped end the civil war in 1990 and they kept the peace. But
many Lebanese say they overstayed their welcome and what they want now
is for the Syrians to stop meddling. Some think the fact that Syria is
opening an embassy in Beirut may signal a new era of more equal and
Syria denies any involvement in Rafik Hariri's
killing, but many here do not believe that, and a U.N. investigation
implicated senior Syrian officials. A special U.N. tribunal to try Mr.
Hariri's suspected killers is scheduled to begin work next month in The