BEIRUT: The United States imposed financial sanctions on Syria's military intelligence chief, Assef Shawkat, Wednesday, accusing him of fomenting terrorism against Israel, backing Syria's domination of Lebanon and fueling Iraq's insurgency. In the latest U.S. efforts to pressure Syria, the Treasury Department ordered banks to block any assets found in the United States belonging to Shawkat and barred Americans from doing business with him
The department said Shawkat, one the Syrian officials named by the UN as a suspect in the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, was involved in "terrorism," linking him to groups like Hizbullah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
"Shawkat has been a key architect of Syria's domination of Lebanon, as well as a fundamental contributor to Syria's long-standing policy to foment terrorism against Israel," said Stuart Levey, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the U.S. Treasury.
In addition, Levey said, Shawkat "has access to the highest levels of the Syrian power structure," by virtue of his marriage to Bushra al-Assad, the president's sister. It is not clear whether Shawkat has any assets in the US.
The action comes after the Treasury in June blacklisted Syria's Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan and Rustom Ghazaleh, its former intelligence chief in Lebanon, under the same anti- terrorism order. The power for the department to take the action stems from a May, 11, 2004, executive order by President George W. Bush.
Meanwhile, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamade denied on Wednesday "ever meeting" Ibrahim Michel Jarjoura, the second witness to directly accuse him of tampering with evidence by "forcing" false testimonies to be given to the international probe. Jarjoura is also the third person to retract evidence he gave to the UN investigation.
"Poor Syrian intelligence, I feel pity for their silly attempts at misleading the world," he told the media after a meeting with Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa in Hamade's house on Wednesday over what he said "the issue of phone tapping."
"I have never met any of these witnesses and I will not dignify their accusations by giving them any more time or any more responses," said Hamade when asked why his name was being mentioned by both "false" witnesses, Houssam Taher Houssam and now Jarjoura.
"I have never met any of these people," he added, suggesting that the media "focus more" on finding who taped Jarjoura's retraction and why.
The meeting came a day after the New TV Channel broadcast the Syrian witness Jarjoura accusing Hamade of "beating and forcing" him to give false testimony to the UN probe.
Jarjoura said he was "in
structed by Hamade to confess that he was working for Syrian intelligence and that he was ordered to keep an eye on several Lebanese politicians, and among them Hariri."
Jarjoura went on to say in the broadcast that Hamade sent him to Sidon to MP Bahia Hariri where he told Hariri about "having information that will help the investigation."
New TV said it has information that Jarjoura recorded the tape - before his arrest by Lebanese authorities last week - at the "Marada headquarters," headed by Suleiman Franjieh.
Judicial sources said "the former minister Franjieh cooperated with a non-Lebanese apparatus" and had a hand in the "manufacturing" by the latest witness to retract his statement.
The follow up committee for March 14 demanded Jarjoura's case be "properly" investigated, including a "follow up on the alleged link to the Marada militia," said the statement released by the committee Wednesday. "Why did Jarjoura confess now and why did the Marada tape his confession," it added.
At the same time, Elias Eid, the Lebanese judge responsible for the UN probe, will be interviewing "three new witnesses" in the case, along with "several individuals involved with the Jarjoura case," according to Daily Star judicial sources.
Jarjoura's arrest brings to 12 the total number of people detained in Lebanon over the February 2005 killing of Hariri, since the launch of the UN inquiry last year.
The former UN chief investigator, Detlev Mehlis, was named by the German magazine Stern Wednesday as the "the man whose life is most dangerously threatened in the Middle East."
The newspaper quoted Mehlis as saying that "the UN probe is still waiting for a response from the Syrian President Bashar Assad over the request to interview him," and confirmed that the slain Gibran Tueni's name was on the "Syrian assassination list."
"It was a clear message to me personally," said Mehlis in the interview. - With agencies.