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IDF: ‘Identity Of Hariri Assassins Still Unknown, But Syria Is Top Suspect’

Chief Of Staff Yaalon: ‘Israel Expects Palestinian President Abbas To Start Dismantling Terror Groups Within Weeks, Not Months’

‘Israel Never Agreed To Immediately Give Up Check-points Around Jericho’

Gen. Yaalon

IDF Chief of Staff General Moshe Yaalon has briefed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on a series of burning issues. One of his top intelligence officers presented an assessment of who might have assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut yesterday. With its long record of murdering its political opponents in Lebanon, Syria is at the top of the list of suspects.

Although praising the efforts of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in halting terror attacks, General Yaalon also said Israel expects the new leader to start confiscating the terrorists weapons within weeks not months. The Chief of Staff had tough words for any IDF soldier who refuses to carry out withdrawal orders.

Photos of Hariri

Who is responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut? Syria is the prime suspect of IDF intelligence and for several reasons. In his briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon reported that although the Palestinian Police are now playing a more active role in foiling teror attacks on Israel, Israel expects President Abbas to start confiscating their weapons within weeks not months.

An unknown group has claimed responsibility for the huge explosion believed to have been a car bomb packed with hundreds of kilos of explosives. IDF intelligence says there are three key suspects:

Syria - determined to maintain its domination of Lebanon and Rafik Hariri was in the opposition calling on the Syrians to get out. Hariri had a lot of clout with Western leaders and he was the 'catalyst' for getting U.N. Security Council Resolution # 1559 which called for Syria to withdraw from the Lebanese state. In other words, Damascus had a score to settle with Hariri. Therefore, it is logical to assume that a pro-Syrian group carried out the assassination. If it can be proved that Syria was responsible and acted behind a 'cover' group, Damascus can expect a major international confrontation.

Hizballah - general elections in Lebanon are scheduled for May and Hariri had teamed up with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, the head of the opposition to Syria's continued presence in Lebanon. Pro-Syrian Hizballah might have murdered Hariri.

World Jihad - the third suspect. Billionaire Rafik Hariri was a symbol of the 'secular corruption' so despised by the Islamist terrorists.

Northern Border - Hizballah launched attacks to coincide with the Palestinian election on January 9th. This was a signal that if the Palestinian front will be quiet, it will not be in the north. Hizballah has been building its strength ready to go on the offensive when ordered to do so. General Yaalon disclosed that the IDF has stepped both its intelligence gathering and operational capability to hit back immediately if Hizballah launches fresh raids.

The Palestinians - President Abbas is moving ahead; he has now deployed eighteen battalions of security forces in the Gaza Strip. Although his forces are conducting mobile patrols around the clock with orders to prevent attacks on Israel, they do not confiscate weapons or arrest terrorists caught 'in the act'. The Chief of Staff described the situation as fragile and Abbas had yet to consolidate his capability to launch a real counter-terror campaign. The terror gangs were still at large and Abbas was trying to deal with them by talking and persuasion. General Yaalon revealed that on one occasion, the Palestinian leader warned Hamas that he would employ different tactics, if the terrorists did not halt their attacks on Israel. The Chief of Staff gave Abbas credit for making a good start in a situation of anarchy, but he also said that Israel expects Abbas to make good on his pledge of 'One authority, one gun!' On this score, General Yaalon added: 'We expect Abbas to crack down on the terrorists within weeks, not months!'

In the Gaza Strip, Abbas now has 70% of Palestinian public opinion behind him and another 60% on the West Bank. In fact, some Palestinians are annoyed with the terrorists ruining their daily lives and have been informing the Palestinian Authority where the terrorists have dug tunnels for arms smuggling. The PA has blocked seven tunnels.

Disengagement - On the domestic scene, the Chief of Staff came down hard against any soldier who refuses to obey disengagement orders. He declared: 'They will have no place with us!' General Yaalon recently kicked a number of reserve officers out of the army, after they sent him a letter expressing reservations about the disengagement and their carrying it out.

As for any Israelis thinking about returning to the Jericho cassino, it's still off limits because Jericho is out of bounds to all Israelis at present. The Chief of Staff also rejected Palestinian claims that Israel had agreed to dismantle check-points outside of Jericho as part of the gradual return of control of five Palestinian towns. It was essential to maintain the check-points because they overlooked a main Israeli highway nearby which runs through the Jordan valley basin. The dispute delayed the handover of Jericho, the first of five Palestinians towns to be returned to Palestinian control after Mahmoud Abbas promised to halt the attacks. The towns were reoccupied during the IDF's 'Defensive Shield Operation' in April 2001, after the Palestinian launched the Al Aksa intifada.

David Essing

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