Good neighbors don't close their borders to their neighbors
By: Elias Bejjani

July 27/2005

On Thursday, July 21, 2005, Syrian Labor and Social Affairs Minister Diyala al-Haj Aref alleged in a press conference that 37 Syrian workers have been killed, 150 others disabled, while many others have been illegally expelled from Lebanon without compensation in anti-Syrian attacks that occurred in the aftermath of the assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last February (Syria is the main suspect in the murder investigation). 

Aref demanded appropriate financial compensation and legal measures from Lebanon in response. By the same token, Aref had refused earlier to elaborate on the status of hundreds of Lebanese citizens detained arbitrarily in Syria's notorious detention centers for years, while deprived of all their basic human rights.

During the same day as Aref's press conference, her boss, Syria's Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Otari, discussed UN Resolution 1559 (that calls for disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias stationed in Lebanon and for the deployment of the Lebanese on the Israeli-Lebanese borders) in an interview with Kuwait's "Al Anba" newspaper.

Otari bizarrely claimed that, "Disarming Hezbollah in Lebanon will threaten the national security of Syria; this is the most important point for us. Disarming Hezbollah in Lebanon will turn Lebanon into a playground for Israeli intelligence, and threaten Syria's national security."

Asked if he thought Syria would be Washington's next military target, Otari postured, "I don't think so, because America cannot get out of Iraq, cannot get out of the quagmire it is in. It cannot open a new front." It is noted here that everyone in Lebanon and abroad who follow world events is well aware of Iran's and Syria's ties to Hezbollah; however this connection has rarely been publicly discussed by Syrian officials in the past.

Allegations of both Syrian officials are actually in full alignment with Syria's Baathist dictators' evil doctrine of forging facts, twisting of norms, and demeaning the intelligence and dignity of the Syrian people, practices that have been in place for the past thirty years.

During the years of their evil reign the Baathists have spared no known means in committing crime, oppression, injustice, assaults or atrocities in cold blood against their own people and against those of neighboring countries. They never abided by any law, code of ethics or human rights covenant, but by the law of the jungle.

They imprisoned, persecuted, intimidated, tortured, impoverished and forced into exile hundreds of thousands of their own citizens as well as hundreds of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian people in both Syria and Lebanon. They used and abused all national causes to serve their own interests and never honored the peoples' dignity, rights or beliefs.

They harbored, financed, bred, manipulated and exported terrorism, fanaticism and crime to the whole world. They invaded and occupied Lebanon for twenty-eight years during which they viciously inflicted on its peace loving people all kinds of horrible atrocities with numbed conscience. They destroyed everything that is productive in Lebanon from institutions, infrastructure, agriculture, industry, environment, human rights, law and order, peace, stability, education, culture, identity and civilization.

Hundreds of thousands of  innocent Lebanese citizens were brutally tortured and savagely killed while many more thousands were either left with handicapping physical and mental ailments or were kidnapped and transferred to Syria to end up as living corpses in notorious prisons and detention centers.

The Syrian regime that was forced to free Lebanon and withdraw its occupation army and intelligence apparatuses in accordance with UN Resolution 1559 last April is now viciously plotting on strangulating its freed prey's economy and hindering all regional and international efforts designed to rebuild devastated and ruined, neighboring Lebanon.

Syria's ongoing clamp down and closure of its borders with Lebanon for the last four weeks is with no doubt a pre-planned conspiracy and a hideous crime that is inflicted on the Lebanese people and on their means for survival. This closure aims to pressure Lebanon not to implement the remaining clauses of the UN Resolution 1559 that necessitates the disarmament of Hezbollah and the Palestinian refugee camps in a bid to hinder the Middle East peace process.

It is worth mentioning that Lebanon exports Lebanese and imported goods through Syria to many Middle East countries with a value of 400 million dollars every month. Syrian rulers who claim Lebanon is a brotherly, neighboring country should recognize that "good neighbors don't close their borders to their neighbors" as the US State Department Secretary, Condoleezza Rice said in Beirut last Friday. These rulers have never ever showed any kind of mercy, respect or sympathy to their poor Syrian workers. Almost one million of them find in Lebanon the employment opportunities that they are deprived of in Syria itself. 

If it is true that, if any of these workers are missing in Lebanon, it is the Syrian regime that must be accountable and not the Lebanese government due to the fact that Syria has been occupying Lebanon, fully controlling its government and enslaving its people for the last 30 years.

The Syrian regime that is demanding financial and legal compensations for its killed and injured workers should remember that based on its criteria, Lebanon is entitled to pursue the same track and demand Syrian compensation for three hundred thousand Lebanese citizens murdered by the Syrian army and by "made in Syria" Palestinian, Arabic, Islamic fundamentalists and Lebanese militias during the last thirty years, for three hundred fifty thousand people handicapped, three million Lebanese forced into exile and immigration, and for many other hundreds of thousands who Syria kidnapped, tortured and savagely killed or detained. 

Syria needs to be held accountable as well for 150 billion dollars for damages it has inflicted on Lebanon's infrastructure.

We strongly believe that the new Lebanese government in full coordination with the country's Human Rights NGO'S should sue Syria at the international Hague court for all the crimes it has committed against the Lebanese people during the last thirty years.

In response to Aref's allegations, Mr. Ghazi Aad, head of the organization known as Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile (SOLIDE), told "The Daily Star" on July 22, 2005,  "Aref's statement is a blatant attempt to avoid discussing the case of Lebanese detainees in Syria. She is trying to run forward, and to avoid answering a question about the situation and fate of Lebanese detainees held in Syria. But we will not give up on the right of our detainees to see freedom again. If there were actually Syrian nationals missing in Lebanon, the Syrian regime would be the authority responsible for their disappearance, I hope she has not forgotten that their security apparatus was the one running Lebanon for the past 30 years. "If anyone is behind the disappearance of thousands of Syrians in Lebanon, they are," he added. We demand an international committee to carry out an investigation of such claims, and on the presence of Lebanese detainees in Syrian prisons as well. This should be settled as soon as possible.  Aad said that SOLIDE is afraid that the detainees, currently being held in various prisons across Syria, might "face liquidation as a response to the recent souring of relations between the government of Damascus and Lebanon."
He elaborated, "We have always worried about this issue, but now more than ever in the light of deteriorating relations between the two countries." According to Aad, who criticized the fact that none of the top Lebanese government leaders have yet responded to Aref, the issue of Lebanese detainees is still a taboo. He said: "We are waiting for the Ministerial Statement to be issued, and if it ignores the case of Lebanese detainees in Syria we will decide on a plan of action to free our sons under unjust detention."

It is worth mentioning that the subject of hundreds of Lebanese detainees in Syria has long been a taboo in Lebanon during the whole evil Syrian occupation era. The withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon last April in accordance with UN Resolution 1559 has removed this taboo and encouraged hope that a release of the prisoners would be possible.

It is a heretic and venomous argument for Syria to tie its national security to Hezbollah's arms. If Syria actually believes that this "made in Iran" organization is scaring Israeli Intelligence and deterring them away from Lebanon with its arms, this means they are freely practicing in Syria itself and in the rest of the Arabic countries because Hezbollah is not there!!!

Accordingly we suggest the Syrian regime immediately hire Hezbollah to patrol Syria's border with Israel in a bid to keep Syria free from the Israeli Intelligence. What a joke and what a naive kind of thinking? This Syrian Hezbollah arm's argument negates all previous Syrian claims that Syria had rehabilitated and rebuilt Lebanon's armed forces on national bases and rendered them efficient and capable. In reality Syria which occupied Lebanon for the last 28 years has never offered any actual or genuine support to the Lebanese army. Its focus was on Hezbollah and other Lebanese and Palestinian militias.

Syria was and still is protecting, financing, harboring and arming Lebanese and Palestinian militias among which are Hezbollah. Sheik Hassasn Nasralleh, Hezbollah's General Secretary had vowed openly in public several times during the last few years that his militia will be Syria's army in Lebanon if and when the Syrian army is forced to withdraw from Lebanon. Now Hezbollah has replaced the Syrian army after its withdrawal from Lebanon and is strongly hindering the Lebanese people from reclaiming their country's independence, sovereignty and freedoms.

Syria and Iran will continue to support Hezbollah and abort all Lebanese endeavors to disarm it as long as the free world countries are not serious enough in forcing with all appropriate and deterrent means the implementation of UN Resolution 1559. Lebanon cannot disarm Hezbollah by itself, the free world should carry this task through the UN, or otherwise the current unstable, bizarre status quo forced on Lebanon will continue to prevail and Hezbollah will continue to be a threat not only to the Lebanese, but to the peace process in the Middle East and stability in the whole world.

The Syrian regime Baathist rulers' are professionals in falsification of facts and twisting of norms. Their selfishness, paranoia, stupidity, tunnel vision, arrogance, criminal mentality and conduct, and camouflaging cheap tactics has put their country and its people in an awkward regional and international isolation while turning it into a rogue country.

They have been and still are a nuisance not only to Lebanon, but also for all their neighboring countries and for the whole free world's democracies and peace. This regime is living in the stone ages, detached from reality.

We strongly believe that the free world has a moral obligation toward the Syrian people who deserve a democratic regime that represents their hopes, aspirations and wishes, and not the Baathist Stalinist rogue one.

Elias Bejjani
*Human Rights activist, journalist & political commentator.
*Spokesman for the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation (CLHRF)
*Media Chairman for the Canadian Lebanese Coordinating Council (LCCC)
E.Mail  LCCC Web Site