WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- Another journalist was censored in Lebanon today.
Gibran Tueni, a prominent Lebanese writer and newly elected Member of Parliament, was killed Monday by a powerful car bomb just outside Beirut. Tueni was one of Lebanon's most outspoken opponents of Syria's Machiavellian interference in Lebanese politics. And as George Bernard Shaw was quoted as saying, "Assassination is the extreme form of censorship." Indeed, Tueni was censored.
Once again all fingers point at Syria. Tueni used his newspaper and his seat in Parliament, to which he was elected last May, to voice his criticism of Syria's continuing role in trying to dominate Lebanon's political life. Even after immense international pressure, mainly from the United States and France, forced Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon or face severe sanctions, many believe Syria's deeply ingrained intelligence services in Lebanon remained active in that country.
Syria's President Bashar Assad admitted as much in a speech to the Syrian National Assembly (parliament), saying that Syria's military pullout from Lebanon does not mean the end of Damascus' involvement in Lebanon.
As recently as Sunday, in an interview to Russian television, Assad cautioned the international community that imposing sanctions against Syria would destabilize the region and the world.
"The Middle East is the heart of the world, and Syria is the heart of the Middle East," Assad said. "If the situation in Syria and Iraq isn't good, the whole region will become unstable, and the entire world will pay for that."
Tueni suggested some time ago in a letter to the Syrian president that relations between the two countries should be reviewed and changed. The suggestion was not well received in Damascus.
Syria, for example, has never agreed to establish an embassy in Lebanon under the pretext that the two countries are far too close to merit exchanges at the ambassadorial level.
"Today's killing of Tueni has revived fears of Syria's lingering control over Lebanon," Nick Blanford wrote from Beirut in the London Times.
Tueni's assassination, on the eve of the expected release of a second United Nation's report into the Hariri killing by special investigator Detlev Mehlis, sends a chilling -- and not too discreet -- message to anyone in Lebanon who dares stand in Damascus' way.
Syria has categorically denied these accusations, saying it is just too obvious. As Imad Mustapha, Syria's ambassador to Washington keeps saying, "We are not that stupid."
But well-informed sources in Lebanon have long argued the existence of a Syrian hit list containing the names of noted critics of the Damascus regime. This list is believed to include politicians, journalists and even high-ranking members of the Christian cleric.
Tueni's uncle, Marwan Hamade, a former minister in Hariri's cabinet, narrowly escaped the same fate some months back. He owes his life to a spur of the moment decision to switch seats with a bodyguard. Hamade escaped with some injuries while the bodyguard died.
Like several other prominent anti-Syrian Lebanese parliamentarians who received death threats, Tueni chose self-exile in Paris shortly after winning his seat in the May parliamentary elections.
Saad Hariri, the son of the slain Lebanese politician who was also elected to Parliament last May, told United Press International from the safety of a Dubai residence only a few days ago that he, too, had received numerous death threats. The younger Hariri has been living in various Arab countries in the Persian Gulf for the past six months. He had planned to return to Beirut "soon."
Similarly, Tueni chose to spend part of his time in France. Sources in Beirut say Tueni returned home Sunday. He was driving to his office in downtown Beirut Monday morning when the massive explosion killed him, his two bodyguards and his driver.
Tueni was the publisher of Lebanon's leading newspaper, an-Nahar, the father of four girls, and a courageous patriot who wanted to see his country freed from outside political interference. Repeated threats on his life did little to deter him. Tueni was also a friend, someone I have known since he was about 13, when he first became interested in journalism.
The criminals who ordered Tueni's murder are most likely to be the same people who signed off on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who ordered the death of journalist Samir Kassir, (who also worked for an-Nahar), and targeted several other journalists and politicians who just happened to get in Syria's way.
Coincidence? Who knows, but as people in the intelligence business often say, in this business there are no coincidences and the trend is hardly likely to abate.
Mehlis' report states: "...given the extent to which the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence and security services infiltrated daily Lebanese life, and specifically the manner in which they monitored Mr. Hariri's movements, there was little probability that a third party could have undertaken the necessary surveillance of Mr. Hariri and maintained the resources, logistics and capacity needed to initiate, plan and commit a crime of this magnitude, without the prior knowledge of the Lebanese security services and their Syrian counterparts."
"Lebanon remains open to the pattern of political assassinations continuing and possibly getting worse," said Shibli Mallat, a law professor, and a senior fellow at the Orville Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale law school who is running for the presidency of Lebanon.
(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)