BEIRUT: Future MP Oqab Saqr strongly rejected Thursday accusations that he was involved in sending arms to Syrian rebels, saying that audio recordings allegedly implicating him in the case were doctored.
Saqr also said that on instructions from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, he was engaged in negotiations with Syrian rebels for the release of Lebanese hostages held in Syria and was also active in sending food, milk and other humanitarian aid to thousands of Syrian refugees displaced by the fighting in Syria.
Speaking at a news conference in Istanbul, Saqr described the audio tapes broadcast last week by the OTV station and published by Al-Akhbar newspaper, both of which support the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, as the “biggest political, media and moral scandal.”
Saqr, a leading member of Hariri’s Future parliamentary bloc, said the tapes belonged to him and were stolen and distorted in a way to implicate him in arms deliveries to Syrian rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Assad.
“Their stupidity, hatred and the deliberate intention to assassinate me – and that I did not have any of the tapes – made them think that [selectively] editing the tape would confirm this accusation fabricated by the axis of deceit,” Saqr told reporters.
“You can take them to any laboratory in the world to verify their authenticity,” he added.
During the conference broadcast by Lebanese TV stations, Saqr played what he said was the full unredacted audio tape between himself and a rebel commander identified as Abu Numan, who is allegedly responsible for the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese pilgrims in the Syrian town of Azaz earlier this year, as the latter asks him for arms in exchange for the release of the men.“We are not asking for much but some iron [in reference to arms] ... We are not asking for money just some arms so we can get rid of Assad,” Abu Numan said.
“Mr. Saqr, my concern is the issue of iron [arms]. You give me iron, I’ll hand you over your people [Lebanese hostages] safe,” he added.
In response, Saqr was heard to say in the tape: “I don’t have arms or iron or anything ... I can speak to members of the Free Syrian Army to transfer some arms.”
“As far as weapons are concerned, I cannot do anything ... I can’t provide you with any weapons,” Saqr added.
The Zahle MP, who has been living out of Lebanon for more than a year and a half, said Abu Numan contacted him in connection with the kidnapping of Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in Syria in May.
“The kidnappings have affected the revolution and Lebanese-Syrian relations. Therefore, we want a humane and ethical solution,” Saqr could be heard saying in recordings he played at the news conference.
Saqr said the public mistakenly thought Hariri wanted a military “solution,” instead of a solution to the hostage crisis. “Is it logical to demand a decisive military solution from a media spokesman?” he asked.
Eleven Shiite pilgrims were kidnapped near Aleppo’s northern Syrian border town of Azaz on May 22 while returning from a pilgrimage in Iran. Two of them have been released so far.
Saqr also said negotiations to secure the release of the remaining nine Lebanese hostages held in Syria were on hold for the moment.
The release of the recordings stirred a political storm in Lebanon, which is sharply split over the 20-month bloody conflict in Syria. Some March 8 MPs called for Saqr to be prosecuted over his alleged involvement in the Syrian conflict in violation of the government’s declared policy to distance Lebanon from the turmoil next door.
In the conference, Saqr described “those who edited the tapes,” as naïve and stupid for selectively broadcasting sections in which the MP speaks about weapons.
He said that he would provide the media with all of the tapes, which were recorded seven months ago and are part of some 500 minutes of conversation.
Saqr played another audio excerpt that he said had been taken out of context.” We want to increase the quantities,” he could be heard saying. Saqr said he had been referring to humanitarian aid, not weapons.
“Yes, we are supplying Syria with milk to the children. This is a dangerous terrorist weapon because Bashar Assad is feeding Syria’s children blood, while the axis of deceit and its allies in Lebanon want to feed Syria’s children blood,” Saqr told the news conference.
“I sent blankets and tents, and participated in constructing buildings in Homs at the instigation and with the funding of Saad Hariri, this criminal who wanted to shelter Syria’s children and women,” he added sarcastically.
Later Thursday, Hariri telephoned Saqr and congratulated him on his remarks at the news conference. He vowed to continue his support for the Syrian uprising until its victory against the Assad regime.
“Hariri stressed that support for the Syrian people will continue until the victory of this revolution, and that this support is an ethical, national and Arab responsibility, which will not be given up by any honest Lebanese,” a statement released by Hariri’s media office said.
Hariri is living outside of Lebanon for security reasons.
Saqr claimed that three groups had come to Turkey to assassinate him but failed.
“Hariri and I cannot be killed by some fabricated audiotapes. You need something bigger like the bomb that killed [Brig. Gen. Wissam] al-Hasan,” he said.
Hasan, who headed the police’s Intelligence Branch, was assassinated on Oct. 19 by a car bomb that ripped through in Ashrafieh and prompted the opposition to demand the resignation of the government. Hariri and the March 14 coalition have blamed Assad for Hasan’s killing.
Saqr slammed his rivals in the March 8 alliance, dubbing them as “the axis of fraud.”
“All of the Syrian regime and their puppets and some March 8 groups should be called the groups of fraud and the axis of deceit,” he said.
Saqr also claimed that Hezbollah security official Wafiq Safa had informed security agencies in Lebanon of the tapes and intended to deliver a warning to the lawmaker.
“My response is that I don’t have anything to be ashamed of,” he said.
Saqr said he was proud of his ties with the Syrian uprising. “I think the revolution in Syria will triumph,” he added.
Saqr said he will provide Lebanon’s public prosecutor, Hatem Madi, with his own version of the tapes and will file lawsuit against “anyone who is involved with this forgery.” Madi has tasked the Central Criminal Investigations Bureau with examining the audio recordings implicating Saqr.