October 21, 2005
SYRIA: KANAAN'S SUICIDE A 'SPECTACULAR AND MYSTERIOUS DEATH'
** Media are incredulous that the "former spymaster" Ghazi Kanaan killed himself.
** Kanaan is likely "scapegoat" for the February assassination of Lebanon's Rafik Hariri.
** Papers see linkages between the suicide's timing and the UN investigations' conclusion.
** Kanaan's death will not "exculpate" Syria and its "battered leader" Bashar al-Assad.
'A tough, cool, calm and collected military man'-- Editorialists termed Kanaan's death an "involuntary 'suicide'''; an Iranian outlet joined others who doubted the "strongman"--recognized as "one of Syria's most feared men" and its "former spymaster"--took his gun and "fired a bullet into his mouth." As Saudi and Egyptian writers lampooned Syria's assertion that media pressure created "symptoms of depression" the Major General "could not stand anymore," Saudi Arabia's Abha Al-Watan asked, "Is it true that the media killed Kanaan?" If so, it stated, "our Arab media has made significant strides." Egypt's state-owned Akhbar al-Yawm expressed "astonishment and bewilderment" over Syria's "holding the media responsible."
'Picking a couple of heavies as fall guys'-- Observers noted that as interior minister and internal security chief, Kanaan was a key functionary for both Hafez and Bashar al-Assad; he held "many secrets related to the 29-year-long Syrian chapter in Lebanon." Most dailies agreed with Israel's left-leaning Ha'aretz that Syria's UN-inquiry suspects "will pass the blame to the dead Kanaan." Egypt's Independent Nahdat Misr judged that Kanaan's death "could save Damascus the embarrassment of international demands" considering Syria is "widely blamed" for "having orchestrated the assassination" of Lebanon's former PM Rafik Hariri. An Irish paper noted, "Many Lebanese claim Damascus was behind his murder."
UN investigator Detlev Mehlis interrogated Kanaan-- While results remains speculative, according to German papers, the plausibility of a conspiracy "easily arises...shortly before the presentation of the Mehlis report" and after Mehlis interrogated Kanaan in Damasus. They proclaimed there is "turmoil in Damascus." An Egyptian writer remarked, "I imagine that Ghazi Kanaan committed suicide for a reason other than the officially announced reason." With "suicide at work," France's right-of-center Le Figaro saw "one more mystery to add to these cloak and dagger" connections in which Syria may be exposed for what a Canadian daily termed Syria's "corrupt and brutal domination of its neighbor, Lebanon."
'So much trouble for Syria'-- "Syria now readies itself for the findings of the UN report [amid] talks of damage limitation," Saudi's pro-government Arab News asserted, but added ironically, "In such circumstances the old Syrian intelligence chief decided to outfox his enemies and silence himself with a silenced pistol." A French daily held, "Syria no longer has allies" since "the idyllic landscape orchestrated by Hafez al-Assad has vanished"; Lebanon's independent Al-Balad opined, "The bullet that entered [Kanaan's] head might be the real beginning of the investigation into Hariri's murder." The UAE's expat-oriented Gulf News summed up this "Syrian thriller" saying, "Kanaan's death cannot close the file on Syria's mistakes in Lebanon."
Prepared by Media Reaction Division (202) 203-7888, email@example.com
EDITOR: Rupert D. Vaughan
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion. Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 28 reports from 17 countries over October 13-17, 2005. Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.
BRITAIN: "Involuntary 'Suicide'"
Brian Whittaker penned in the left-of-center Guardian (Internet version, 10/14): "Many observers believe Gen. Kanaan's death is connected to the UN investigation into the assassination last February of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri--an attack widely blamed on Syria or its allies in Lebanon. Gen. Kanaan, who spent 20 years as Syria's military intelligence chief for Lebanon, had been interviewed by the UN investigators, though reportedly he was not a suspect. There is speculation among experts and internet bloggers who follow Syrian affairs that his 'suicide'--if true--was not voluntary and that he may have been made a scapegoat for Hariri's assassination."
FRANCE: "The Syrian Regime Tearing Itself Apart From the Inside"
Pierre Prier wrote in right-of-center Le Figaro (10/14): "Does the spectacular and mysterious death of Kanaan signal the beginning of the end for the Syrian regime?… The idyllic landscape orchestrated by Hafez el-Assad has vanished. Syria no longer has allies: not in the West, and not in the Arab world.... Damascus is surrounded by hostile nations. The Americans are occupying Iraq.... Saudi Arabia suspects Syria of having orchestrated the assassination of Hariri.... France and the U.S. became allies to throw the Syrians out of Lebanon.... In the post-9/11 era, the former key nation of the Middle East is now the nation no one needs any longer. The U.S., involved in a bloody war in Iraq, sees things in black and white when it comes to its friends and allies.... The only thing Washington is asking from Syria is to stop financing Hizbullah.... As for France’s new stance, it is mainly due to disappointment.... Paris wanted to show to the world--but especially to the U.S., the superiority of its soft approach over force and of its intimate knowledge of the Middle East over ideology. France was going to lead Syria to democracy, thus presenting a counter model to Bush’s ‘Greater Middle East.’ Today, the regime, under strong international pressure is tearing itself apart from the inside. But without a major incident, the dissolution of the regime could take a long time."
"An Affair Of State"
Pierre Prier opined in right-of-center Le Figaro (10/13): "Coincidentally, the disappearance of Kanaan is happening just when new pressure is mounting against the Syrian regime...Syria is the target of repeated admonitions from the U.S. to stop supporting Iraqi insurgents.... Pushed against the wall, the Syrian regime may be tempted to save itself by eliminating the more cumbersome of its elements. The regime’s opponents, who are prohibited from assembling in Damascus, are holding open meetings in Paris and Washington. It is alleged that they are in close contact with the Assad family. There are also allegations that a close advisor of Bashar al-Assad has made contact with the U.S. and the Syrian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood exiled in London. The suspicious death of Kanaan is one more mystery to add to these cloak and dagger negotiations."
GERMANY: "Syrian Thriller"
Wolfgang Günter Lerch commented in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (10/13): "At the end of the month the German investigator, who also conducted research in the Syrian capital, will present his report [on the Hariri assassination] to the UN. The Syrian regime, which has been backed up by the government party, the army and intelligence services for decades, does not look good in this case. Has Ghazi Kanaan really decided to commit suicide? This question is pressing given the background and circumstances of his death."
"Suicide At Work"
Tomas Avenarius observed in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (10/13): "After the Syrian Interior Minister committed suicide, the question of whether and how the leadership in Damascus is involved in the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri becomes more pressing. Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan was Syria's intelligence coordinator in the occupied country before the assassination, and he was later based in Damascus still bearing responsibility for the Syrian agencies in Lebanon. If the car bomb assassination is a senior conspiracy between Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officers, Kanaan could have been involved. That is why UN investigator Mehlis interrogated him in Damascus. Until Mehlis' report is published end of October, everything remains speculative. However, the thought that the death of the minister could be the personal consequence of a conspiracy easily arises.... Shortly before the presentation of Mehlis report, it is clear that the Syrian government could benefit from the minister's suicide. An official who commits suicide publicly accepts the blame and clears others."
"Turmoil in Damascus"
Business daily Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg editorialized (10/13): "His suicide indicates that the Syrian apparatus takes the investigations seriously. It shows how successful international cooperation can be when the vital powers work together. The U.S., France and Russia, which pursue partly different interests in Iran and Iraq and undermine the policy of each other, are united over Lebanon. As a result, the UN investigation led by German prosecutor Mehlis has a strong mandate, which Syria recognized…. The assassination of Hariri in February started an unprecedented dynamic process in Lebanon, leading to mass protests against the occupiers, the withdrawal of the Syrian troops, general elections and the implementation of an UN investigation. Hope for a democratization in the Middle East after the Cedar Revolution might come too early; on the contrary, bomb attacks on politicians and journalists reveal the division of the country. However, the pressure on the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has increased not least because of the developments in Lebanon. Assad still plays a dubious role among the leaders of rough states, and the U.S. has made clear that it will no longer accept any support for terrorists. The hope is that Assad gives in and becomes a second Qadhafi. The second prospect is less optimistic: The battered leader could be overthrown by his military. Kanaan's suicide shows that Damascus is in turmoil."
ITALY: "The Last Baath Stronghold"
Claudio Gallo commented in centrist, influential La Stampa (10/13): "In the black-and-white world of George Bush, after Iraq’s persuaded conversion to democracy, Syria follows Iran for the title of ‘villain,’ and North Korea brings up the rear. ‘Terrorism’ is the accusation turned toward the regime of Bashar el Assad. Damascus, in fact, supports a certain number of anti-Israeli Palestinian movements and openly supports Lebanese Hezbollahs.... Located between Israel and Iraq, the radical Syria, even now that it has released its grip on Lebanon, is a sort of geographical provocation for the State Department. The latest offensives by the U.S. Army against the Iraqi resistance, in fact, were carried out along the border with Syria, even though it seems that Condoleezza Rice has opposed an attack beyond the borders.... In the prospect of a democratic Greater Middle East inspired by Bush, Damascus is jarringly different from Mubarak’s Egypt, which is learning to use the passwords of democracy without adopting its substance. Assad’s attempts to liberalize the regime and start economic reforms...have not succeeded in defeating the rhetoric of pan-Arab nationalism, the self-serving mystique of a single party and, most of all, corruption. Isolated, under siege, without the crucial characteristics needed to really become another Iraq, Syria risks imploding or heading towards a long stalemate."
"'The U.S. Is Already Looking For A New Leader'"
Paolo Mastrolilli from New York in centrist, influential daily La Stampa (10/13): "U.S. President Bush, commenting on Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan’s suicide, yesterday at the White House, explained which were the conditions that would ease relations with Damascus.... Following warnings from the head of the White House...other worrisome news has followed.... The problem, as various analysts are assessing, is the risk of creating a new Iraq, where nobody authoritatively can give orders.... This would explain why the United States has an ear to the ground to understand who might replace the leader and guarantee stability. However, so far, a policy of diplomatic isolation supported by Rice has prevailed over a possible military strategy."
RUSSIA: "Calling Damascus To Task"
Sergey Strokan commented in business-oriented Kommersant (10/19): "Crime and punishment are one of the touchiest, if not slipperiest, themes in international relations. The Middle East is a graphic example. In Baghdad today, a court of law will try Saddam Hussein for crimes committed against the Iraqi people. Obviously, the trial is in order. It is similarly obvious that the military operation in Iraq was 'punishment without a crime,' since the stated reason for the operation was the weapons of mass destruction Iraq didn't really have. Some countries take advantage of the imperfections of trying to rectify 'bad regimes' through the use of force. Syria is a case in point. Its officials claim their country did not occupy Iraq or turn it into a seat of terrorism; it has nothing to do with cleansing operations in Palestinian territory; and it is not trying to implement the U.S.- and Israeli-backed 'constructive anarchy' concept in Lebanon. It so happened, though, that Damascus was caught in the act. Syria's hand in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon is a weighty argument in favor of calling Damascus to task. In that sense, it is a matter of principle for the international community to make the Syrian leadership bear responsibility for its actions. Otherwise, there is no guarantee the new Lebanese Prime Minister will not follow his predecessor's fate."
"A Key Witness Kills Himself"
Aleksandr Reutov noted in business-oriented Kommersant (10/13): "Even if the UN inquiry infers that Syria was behind the former Lebanese Prime Minister’s assassination, Damascus can get away with it, avoiding Iraq’s fate. The Syrian top leadership figures that, by picking a couple of heavies as fall guys and turning them over to the international tribunal, it can save the regime and spare Syria occupation. Ghazi Kanaan may have had to play that role but thought better of it."
IRELAND: "Syria Regime Shaken After Minister's Suicide"
Michael Jansen wrote from Nicosia in the center-left Irish Times (10/13): “The Syrian government was severely shaken yesterday when its powerful interior minister Ghazi Kanaan was found dead in his office at noon, having apparently committed suicide.... He apparently committed suicide three weeks after being interrogated by UN investigator Detlev Mehlis who is investigating last February's assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri. Many Lebanese claim Damascus was behind his murder, while the U.S. and France hold Syria responsible for creating a climate of tension in Lebanon which led to the killing.... Shortly before he died, Gen. Kanaan contacted a Lebanese radio station to say that his testimony to the UN team was meant to illuminate the era Syria served in Lebanon. He said the media had misconstrued what he said in order to "mislead public opinion" and denied allegations that he had received money from Mr Hariri. He concluded: 'I believe this is the last statement that I will make.' He died as the U.S. stepped up pressure on Syria to end its support for Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad and halt alleged cross-border infiltration by Muslim militants into Iraq. While the U.S. has initiated contacts with exiled Syrian opponents of the Assad government, analysts say that the Bush administration seeks to alter Syria's behaviour, rather than effect regime change. But Washington could seize on the general's death as a means to increase the pressure and weaken the regime.”
ISRAEL: "Who Benefits From Kanaan's Death?"
Senior Middle East affairs analyst Zvi Bar'el wrote in independent left-leaning Ha'aretz (10/14): "[Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi] Kanaan knew the history of Syrian control in Lebanon, under both the late president Hafez Assad and his son Bashar, and carried the facts in his head and in his documents. Bashar appointed him interior minister and internal security chief and if any government directive to eliminate Hariri existed, Kanaan certainly knew about it.... Will Kanaan's death affect the probe of Hariri's murder? That depends on where the inquiry stands.... If the commission intends to question senior Syrian officials in the next two weeks on the basis of information from Kanaan, it may now hit a brick wall, as those suspects can pass the blame to the dead Kanaan."
Arab affairs correspondent Jackie Hoogie wrote in popular, pluralist Maariv (10/14): "It is widely believed that Ghazi Kanaan was the most serious threat to Assad among the Alawites.... Syria withdrew from Lebanon half a year ago; since then, the Lebanese scene has not stopped bleeding from bombings and bodies. Hariri and Kanaan have taken to their graves many secrets related to the 29-year-long Syrian chapter in Lebanon. The way they disappeared teaches that the presence in Lebanon may have been Syrian, but the tragedy was of a Greek nature."
WEST BANK: "Ghazi Kanaan And The Harsh Erratic Times"
Yahya Rabah wrote in official Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (10/14): “The well-known Syrian Major General Ghazi Kanaan committed suicide with one shot in his mouth. However, this suicide will raise many questions and true and fabricated stories.... Kanaan was one of those summoned for questioning by [UN's] international investigator Mehlis a few days ago. No one but Mehlis himself knows exactly what happened and what the details are.”
EGYPT: "Kanaan's 'Suicide' Does Not Get Damascus Out Of The Impasse"
Dr. Jamal Abd-al-Jawad commented in Cairo's independent Nahdat Misr (Internet version, 10/15): "The mystery behind the suicide of Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan will remain the subject of much speculation and analyses for a long time to come. Most probably, it will not be easy for many people to accept the explanation that says that the Syrian minister committed suicide because his reputation was tarnished and his financial integrity was distorted within the framework of the investigations and the rumors that followed the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. In fact, analyses that state that the Syrian minister committed suicide because the moment of revealing the truth about his involvement in Al-Hariri's assassination, and perhaps even in terrorist incidents before and after the assassination that targeted several Lebanese figures, has approached are more likely to be accepted.... It seems that some people in Damascus believe that...Kanaan's 'suicide' is enough to exculpate the state of the behaviors of its representatives. What these people in Damascus fail to realize, however, is that the factors of the impasse in which Syria finds itself existed even before Al-Hariri's assassination, which was no more than the spark that unleashed many forces that have accumulated reasons to contend with Syria. Ghazi Kanaan's suicide could save Damascus the embarrassment of international demands that a senior Syrian official stand trial, but it will not exculpate it of political responsibility as a result of its possible involvement in that incident. Moreover, the fact that the charge has almost been proved against the Syrian official who committed suicide will further undermine Damascus' position and encourage its rivals to exercise more pressure against it. This means that the situation is proceeding from bad to worse for Damascus despite Kanaan's 'suicide'."
"Kanaan Could Not Take It Anymore?"
Ibrahim Si'dah wrote in Cairo's state-owned Akhbar al-Yawm (Internet version, 10/15): "Syrian official sources have affirmed that Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan died after he shot himself in the mouth, because he could not take all the criticism and accusations he had been subjected to for a long time. The sources added that such criticism and accusations grew fiercer as the international investigators verged on the completion of the task of revealing the unknown facts about the crime that involved Rafiq Al-Hariri's assassination. The Syrian sources said that Ghazi Kanaan, the minister who committed suicide, was suffering a severe psychological crisis, particularly after the violent attack waged by a Lebanese television channel, namely NTV, which made an indirect reference to Kanaan's involvement in Al-Hariri's assassination. The symptoms of the depression from which Ghazi Kanaan suffered became worse after he listened to the serious accusations leveled against him by several Lebanese political personalities, whom he regarded as very close friends throughout the many years he had spent in Beirut (1982 to 2002) as the person in charge of the Syrian military presence in Lebanon. It has been said that the Syrian minister could not take it anymore after what he had been through over the past several months, in terms of the feelings of great distress, oppression and persecution as a result of the campaigns of criticism, defamation and accusation that the Lebanese and non-Lebanese media have waged and are still waging against him. I am in no position to raise doubt about the Syrian interior minister's death; neither am I in a position to deny that he committed suicide or that he was driven into committing suicide. However, I can only express astonishment and bewilderment over holding the media responsible for the nervous breakdown from which Ghazi Kanaan suffered, thus driving him into committing suicide.... Kanaan was known as a tough, cool, calm and collected military man who sought battle and never hesitated in facing any opponents or enemies, using all the available tools of deterrence, subjugation and disciplinary punishment.
It is unreasonable for a man with such traits to commit suicide just because he was depressed over what had been published, heard or shown against him in the Arab and foreign media. I imagine that Ghazi Kanaan committed suicide for a reason other than the officially announced reason.
SAUDI ARABIA: "Al-Hariri, Arafat, And International Justice"
Abha Al-Watan, known for its exclusive reports and in-depth coverage, remarked (Internet Version, 10/18): "If the United Nations is the last resort for justice and punishment seekers, it would be its duty to achieve this away from U.S. and European pressure. Its investigation into the assassination of Al-Hariri might be the first step on the right track..... Would Israel be punished if it was proven to be implicated in Arafat's death? Will the United States put pressure to ensure the murderer is punished or will it find justifications for Israel's actions?"
"Kanaan's Suicide: The Media And Transparency"
Abha Al-Watan, known for its exclusive reports and in-depth coverage, opined (Internet Version, 10/16): "Have our Arab countries really become like Scandinavian countries where officials cannot tolerate criticism? This question was raised in the wake of Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan's suicide with bullets from his own gun in his office. This was after the Lebanese television broadcast what was considered a conversation between Kanaan and the head of the international committee investigating the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.... Kanaan had a long experience in Lebanon, where he served between 1982 and 2002. As he laid political and military plans to confront Israeli plans in Lebanon, he interfered in every detail in the Lebanese society. He had the final word at the parliamentary and municipal elections as well as administrative appointments, from the most senior to the most junior of employees. He left both good and bad marks on the Lebanese arena. Therefore, questioning him about the assassination of Al-Hariri was not only routine but normal, particularly since the Lebanese security officers held in connection with the crime were the product of the security system that controlled Lebanon throughout the Syrian presence there. Is it true that the media killed Kanaan as Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shar'a has said? If the answer is yes, then our Arab media has made significant strides. Moreover, the Arab political class has developed so much it has preceded its people in transparency. If the answer is no, then we have to take a long look and ask a lot of questions that have to do with Kan'an personally and his connection with the assassination of Al-Hariri on the one hand and Syria's connection with the assassination that has shaken the world both as a country and as a regime, on the other, particularly since the German judge is ready to hand over his report to the United Nations. He has even asked the Syrian leadership to investigate Kanaan's suicide and perform an autopsy on his body.
"Timing Raises Doubts"
An editorial in pro-government English-language Arab News noted (Internet Version, 10/13): "The death of Ghazi Kanaan, Syria's former security supremo in Lebanon and then his country's interior minister, raises many disturbing questions. The Syrian authorities say they believe that the death was suicide. However the sheer timing of Kanaan's demise, just days before the release of a UN report into the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri must raise doubts. Though Kanaan was reportedly relaxed at this week's Cabinet meeting, in his final hours he seems to have behaved very strangely. He allegedly telephoned a local radio station to give what he described as his 'last message.' This was to the effect that he was proud of what Syrian intervention in Lebanon had achieved for that strife-torn country. A few hours later it appears that he returned to his office, put a silenced pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. There will be those tempted to believe that the silencer was symbolic. Kanaan's death silences a man who has long been a pillar of the regime and ran security in Lebanon for 20 years. Until the UN report is published, it will not be possible to know whether or not, as is being alleged, Kanaan told investigators about corruption within the Syrian regime. If true, then the prime witness to these allegations is now dead. It is of course possible that when he recently had a meeting in Damascus with a member of the UN inquiry team, he was given a preview of the conclusions and felt fatally compromised. Yet those who knew the urbane and assured former security chief would not have imagined that he would have been so fazed by what could easily be characterized as a highly partial report driven by Washington. Syrian President Bashar Assad, speaking yesterday to CNN before Kanaan's death was announced, denied any involvement by his country in Hariri's assassination. He then added that if the UN had credible evidence that any Syrians were in fact involved, then his government would take action against them. If it turns out the chief suspect died yesterday, then the task of Syrian investigators has just become immeasurably more difficult. Conspiracy theories are certain to abound. If Kanaan was indeed responsible for Hariri's slaying, then this action destroyed overnight the influence that Syria had worked so long and so hard to establish in Lebanon. If the UN report established his guilt, then maybe Kanaan was only trying to cheat a would-be executioner. Syria now readies itself for the findings of the UN report. The government is clearly anxious to preserve stability. There is talk of damage limitation preparations to head off any anger from the Americans and a tightening of economic and political sanctions. Maybe one such preparation was the serving up of Ghazi Kanaan as the scapegoat. In such circumstances the old Syrian intelligence chief decided to outfox his enemies and silence himself with a silenced pistol."
LEBANON: "International Activity Links Syria’s Fate To The Mehlis Report"
Nicolas Nassif expressed the view in moderate, anti-Syrian An-Nahar (10/17): “It appears that the results of the Mehlis report...will be linked to the future of the Syrian Regime.... It is believed that the results of this report will--at least--lead to certain changes in Syria. This does not mean that the Syrian Regime is in danger...but it is obvious that any internal event in Syria is attracting vast international attention and is leading the international community to interfere in Syrian. A clear example is Ghazi Kanaan’s suicide.... By committing suicide, Kanaan opened the gate for the international community to interfere in Syria’s affairs in a way that proved that the international community has no confidence in Syria.... Interest in Kanaan’s suicide transcends his possible role in Hariri’s assassination to reach the fate of he Syrian regime itself.”
"The Suicide And Heating Up The Waiting (Period)"
Bechara Charbel commented in independent Al-Balad (10/13): "Those who want to prove Syria’s involvement in Hariri’a assassination, found their refuge in Kennan’s suicide. They consider this suicide as clear evidence that IIIC Mehlis’s report will be full of condemnation and evidence against Syria. They also interpret Kanaan’s statement to the Voice of Lebanon Radio as evidence of his feeling that he was in danger, and that he might be assassinated by others.... Those who only believe in Western conspiracy theories will certainly have a hard time interpreting Kanaan’s death.... In any case, Kanaan might be the first or the last victim of Mehlis’s report. The bullet that entered his head might be the real beginning of the investigation into Hariri’s murder, or might be an announcement of the end of the investigation."
"Another Pandora's Box"
The Daily Star editorialized (Internet version, 10/13): "The death of Ghazi Kanaan may have opened another Pandora's box in Syria. It could unleash another chain of unexpected events and consequences for the regime. To even the most casual outside observer, Kanaan's death is yet another symptom of a totalitarian system where the nodes of power calcify in their positions, breaking all of those underneath.... this is a time of concern and a time for alertness. We hope that Arab countries, the West and the United Nations can create a shield to protect Lebanon from the violent reactions of a flailing regime."
SYRIA: "Spoiling Syrian-Lebanese Relations"
Khalid al-Ashhab wrote in government-owned Al-Thawrah (10/19): "Perhaps it is not dangerous for these people to spoil the Syrian-Lebanese relations. And perhaps the daggers they thrust in our backs are not dangerous. But is it not dangerous that they destroy an entire country and its people, security, and stability? Is it not dangerous that a few politicians and media men sell an entire country for a handful of dollars and lies?... [One] wonders why these Lebanese did not point an accusing finger at Israel, which occupied Lebanon, destroyed its cities and villages, carried out tens and indeed hundreds of assassinations in Lebanon and against its sons, and perpetrated many massacres on Lebanese soil and among the Lebanese people."
UAE: "Syria Needs To Be Transparent"
The English-language expat-oriented Gulf News commented (10/13): "The death of Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan, who committed suicide according to the official statement, has raised more questions than those he answered in his last interview for a local Lebanese radio. With very little information given by the Syrian authorities about the incident, analysts have every right to speculate on the sudden disappearance of the man who once was the most powerful person in Lebanese politics. Whatever the means of his death whether the 63-year-old killed himself or someone else put an end to his active life the importance of the incident and its implications for the Syrian position in months, and even years, to come would be significant, politically and economically. The end of a strong man like Kanaan in the manner and the time it was executed (10 days before the Mehlis report), was a direct result of the international pressure on Syria following the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. However, it does not mean this pressure will be relaxed after Kanaan's death. It is not yet known whether he was the traitor as referred to by President Bashar Al-Assad in his interview with the CNN minutes before Kanaan's death, or a person who was depressed because he saw his 20 years of intelligence work in Lebanon causing so much trouble for Syria. But Kanaan was the man who had implemented the policies of his leaders in a strict and sincere manner and cannot be held solely responsible for what has happened. Kanaan's death cannot close the file on Syria's mistakes in Lebanon. Such an end will not help Syria in mending its bridges with Lebanon, EU and the U.S. Syrian leaders should investigate by themselves why their policies in Lebanon have backfired and should be transparent about their investigation. They should tell the world the full story before Detlev Mehlis tells it."
AUSTRALIA: "The Former Spymaster's Dubious Suicide"
Mohamad Bazzi remarked in the liberal Sydney Morning Herald (Internet version, 10/13): "For years, Lebanese and Syrians mentioned his name only in whispers. As the head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon for two decades, Ghazi Kanaan wielded such power that it was unwise to invoke him carelessly. His death on Wednesday was reported by the Syrian Government as suicide, but some enemies of Damascus suggest his passing might not have been voluntary. Since last October Mr. Kanaan, 63, had served as Syria's interior minister and the country's most powerful security official. But it was his long involvement in neighbouring Lebanon that made him one of Syria's most feared men. He was one of a handful of Syrian officials interviewed last month by a United Nations team investigating the assassination in February of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri. The UN team is due to release its findings by October 25, and there has been speculation that the report will blame top Syrian officials, including Mr Kanaan, for Mr Hariri's murder. Syria has repeatedly denied involvement in the assassination. Many Lebanese reject the notion that the former spymaster killed himself. 'Did he really commit suicide, or was it done for him?' asked Gebran Tueni, a Lebanese member of parliament and longtime Syrian opponent. 'In Syria, there are people who want to hide the facts.'... Mr Kanaan's top aide, General Walid Abaza, said in Damascus that his boss went home, 'then he came back after three-quarters of an hour, took a gun from the drawer and fired a bullet into his mouth.' About three hours before his death, Mr. Kanaan phoned a Lebanese radio program and presented a long denial of reports in the Lebanese media that alleged he had received tens of millions of dollars in bribes during his tenure in Lebanon. He ended the interview by saying: 'This is going to be the final statement that I can make.' He had again denied any involvement in Mr Hariri's killing, and media reports that he had been paid millions of dollars by Mr Hariri to help manipulate Lebanese elections."
PAKISTAN: "Intense U.S. Pressure On Syria"
Islamabad's pro-military English-language Pakistan Observer noted (Internet Version, 10/14): Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan has committed suicide apparently in the backdrop of UN probe into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Shortly before Kanaan's suicide, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied Syria's involvement in the assassination. Syria has been under great pressure from the United States on more than one count. Washington is accusing Damascus of meddling in Iraq's affairs and the U.S. troops' failure to control the situation in the invaded oil rich country is attributed to fighters' infiltration from Syria. Syria has repeatedly repudiated the U.S. allegations, which are being hurled at Syria on a regular basis. Damascus is also being pushed through the UN on account of Hariri's assassination. And the U.S. is resorting to blame game on this count. Besides, the U.S. seldom unhooks Israel's neighbours such as Iran and Syria so as to keep the Jewish state at ease. Iran and Syria are apparently the next U.S. targets in its so-called campaign of democracy in the Middle Eastern countries. Ghazi Kanaan's suicide is an obvious manifestation of the U.S. pressure. It's really deplorable that Syria is being implicated in the Hariri's assassination pending report of the UN probe into Lebanon's former Prime Minister's killing. It's evident that Syria is being subjected to arm twisting by Washington primarily because its leadership is determined to uphold its national interests and it has refused to capitulate in the face of the U.S. pressure on this count. The people of Syria stand solidly behind their leadership and are not ready to kneel down before the U.S.. One can only hope that wisdom will prevail on the U.S. leadership and it will refrain from targeting Syria and Iran for the furtherance of its designs in the Middle East. The region is already on the power keg that will explode if attempts are made to further push Syria or Iran. Though the suicide by Ghazi Kanaan just a week after his grilling by the UN investigators has its own connotations, yet it's feared that the suicide will be exploited by the U.S. to substantiate its allegations against Syria. Bashar al-Assad is seemingly being drifted into a trap. It's hoped that he will not succumb to the U.S. pressure and uphold scruples for the sake of international justice and fair play.
IRAN: "Syria Awaits Unpleasant Events"
Seyyed Emad Hoseyni commented in reformist Tehran E'temad (Internet Version, 10/13): "Ghazi Kanaan, the Syrian strongman and a former member of the Syrian Intelligence and Security Organization and minister of interior, committed suicide in his office yesterday. Reporting the above news, the Syrian news agency SANA, in a short report added: 'Kanaan, the former director of the Syrian Military Intelligence in Lebanon, committed suicide on Wednesday morning in his office in Damascus.' SANA has not provided any further details, turning the incident into a mysterious event at the top of international news. In a report from Damascus, Reuters also reported that Kanaan committed suicide exactly two weeks after chief United Nations investigator Detlev Mehlis and members of his team had interrogated him and a number of other high-ranking Syrian officials regarding the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Refiq Hariri.... Between 1983 and 2002 he served as the head of the Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, and between 2002 and 2004 he was appointed as the head of the department of political security in the Syrian army. In October 2004 he was appointed Syrian minister of interior.... What is certain is that, regardless of the circumstances of Ghazi Kan'an's death, this event will have a message for America and Detlev Mehlis, especially as he was associated with one of the most important files of terrorism in the Middle East during the past few months. His death can also increase the pressures on Bashar Asad and his government, especially as either openly or implicitly America is talking of the need for changes in the political structure in Syria. Condoleezza Rice has always called for changes from inside the government structure in that country. The question that arises now is whether Kan'an's suicide in Syria could prove to be as significant as Hariri's assassination in Lebanon or not, and whether it will lead to the changes desired by America. America is looking for a charismatic figure to replace Bashar Asad, without getting into a hell that Muhammad Naji-'Atri, the Syrian prime minister, has promised America and her armed forces. In this context, Raf'at Asad, Hafiz Asad's brother and the Syrian President Bashar Asad's uncle, is trying to portray himself as the person that America needs."
CANADA: "Small Victories In The Middle East"
The conservative National Post editorialized (10/15): "It is unusual for a suicide to represent a sign of hope... However, the death of Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan, ostensibly by his own hand is welcome evidence that the international committee investigating the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri is more than just a public relations exercise. Their work may well expose Syria's corrupt and brutal domination of its neighbour, only recently ended, and confirm its suspected direct role in the assissination. This development, coupled with the last-minute announcement that Iraq's Shiite-dominated government has acquiesced to constitutional demands from the country's minority Sunni community, suggests that even in that bleak region of the world, rare moments of political and legal maturity are possible."
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