Two Jewish members teamed with three members of Lebanese descent in winning House approval on Wednesday, Feb. 16, for House Resolution 91 eulogizing
Lebanon's slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, calling for an end to foreign occupation of Lebanon, and supporting an international investigation into who was responsible for the Feb. 14 car bombing that killed
Hariri and at least 14 other people.
The Jewish members speaking in favor of the resolution were Tom
Lantos, D-Calif., the ranking member of the House International Relations Committee, and
(D-Calif.), a colleague on that panel. The Lebanese descendants were U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (-D-W.V.), author of the resolution, and U.S. Reps Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Ray Lahood (R-Ill) A fourth member of Lebanese descent, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La) later inserted comments into the
Congressional Record, as other members of Congress were expected to do over the
five legislative days following passage.
Lantos said he had met Hariri on many occasions, and noted that as a man of great wealth, Hariri could have removed himself from Lebanon's turmoil and have lived in a mansion on the French Riviera. But instead, after helping to negotiate the 1989 Taif Accords which ended Lebanon's civil war, Hariri rebuilt the commercial area of downtown
Beirut, helping it on the road back to its former reputation as the Paris of the Middle East.
"Among Mr. Hariri's most impressive attributes was his capacity for growth," Lantos said. "Over time, he evolved from a Lebanese leader who was close to the
Syrians, into one who was wary of them, and finally, in his last days, into one who outright opposed them. Of course it is a near certainty that it was that evolution, particularly the final stage, that led to his demise. A long time ago in a private talk with the President of
Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, he taught me a lesson. He said, 'Every country has its exports and Syria exports trouble.' No wiser words were ever said in connection with this latest tragedy.
"Mr. Speaker, as I stand here," Lantos added, "I do not know for certain who murdered Rafik Hariri. I only know that this thuggish action bears all the hallmarks of infamous Syrian-inspired assassinations in Lebanon's past, going back to the then-shocking killing of Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt in 1977. I also know that Syria makes little effort to hide the fact that these assassinations are intended to intimidate other potential opponents."
Engel, noting that he had been an author of the Syria Accountability Act, struck a similar theme: It is clear to me, and all the evidence is being gathered, but I suspect that this assassination has some ties to Damascus, to the regime in Damascus. There have been all kinds of allegations, and one thing I know for sure is that the Syrians have allowed Lebanon to destabilize, and this is part and parcel of the result.
"Prime Minister Hariri in recent months had grown more and more critical of the Syrian occupation, and I say occupation
because it is, of Lebanon," Engel said. "And in the past months, he objected to Syrian interference in the running of Lebanon's affairs. The bottom line here is that Lebanon needs to be free and independent and make its own decisions and not be held under the yoke of Syria. Syria needs to get out of Lebanon. I have many, many Lebanese American friends with whom I am very close, work with me, the Syria Accountability Act, and all feel strongly that they want their country, their former country and the country to which they have ties, to be free.
"Syria now has 15,000 troops in Lebanon," Engel said. "I was pleased to see the United States and
France collaborate on Security Council Resolution 1559, which pointedly calls for all foreign troops to leave Lebanon and which clearly says that the Lebanese ought to run their own show. Syria has allowed various terrorist militias to run free. Hezbollah, the southern border of Lebanon, northern border of
Israel wreaks havoc with Damascus's blessing.
"So at this time, when we pay tribute to Prime Minister Hariri, I also want to call on words of a former prime minister,
General Michel Aoun, who came right here to Washington just a year ago, and said, `You know, in Lebanon Syria likes to play
the game they are the arsonist and the fireman. They start the fire and then they want accolades and credit for putting it out.' Because General Aoun came here to Washington and testified before Congress, he was indicted in Lebanon and it is virtually impossible for him to go back to his country. This is what we are dealing with."
Issa led off commentary by the Lebanese descendants, saying "there is no proof that Syria is directly responsible for this assassination, but there is no doubt that Syria has remained in Lebanon far longer either than their mandate or than the agreements under the Taif Accords of 1989. Syria has claimed to be the responsible party in Lebanon for security. Yet even after warnings of the possibility of an attack on these and other leaders who have voiced their opposition to the continued presence of Syria in Lebanon, this heinous attack was allowed to occur.
"This resolution calls on all foreign forces in Lebanon to leave the country," Issa continued. "This resolution calls on many things. But for today, I would like all of us to remember it calls on a remembrance of the life of a man who had great personal wealth, who had great success, who had been granted even the citizenship of another country
(Saudi Arabia) in which he had worked but returned to Lebanon, and, at his own expense and at his own peril, campaigned tirelessly for Lebanese citizenship, Lebanese nationality, Lebanon for the Lebanese."
Lahood described Hariri as "a uniter, not a divider."
"He certainly did not deserve what he got and what was delivered to him a few days ago when he was assassinated," Lahood added. "He did not deserve that. I hope that we are able to find those that perpetrated this terrible, terrible event against him that took his life and those of others that were in his entourage."
Lahood added: "I am not going to take the time to try to lay blame. I think we should be here to honor this great man, this great leader, the great peacemaker, the uniter of people, the one that has brought people together around the idea that Lebanon is a country that deserves attention, a country that has not always gotten the attention that it deserved.
"And so in urging Members to vote for this resolution, we say, job well done, good work, we thank those who have made this
resolution possible today, and God speed to Rafik Hariri for his efforts to try to unite the Middle East to bring our fellow
Lebanese people together as he has visited this country and to rebuild the beautiful city of Beirut. We have lost a great
leader. We will remember him."
Rahall, the resolution's principal author, commented that Hariri suffered "a fate that no human being on the face of the Earth should suffer.
It was a criminal act; it was a heinous act of terrorism from those who do not have the courage to work through the political
systems or differences. I do not know who is to blame. Certainly there are enough outside forces in the region that once
again are looking at Lebanon to play their ugly, deadly games. It is well known Rafik Hariri's background with the Saudi
royal family. They have enemies in the region. Certainly we know that al Qaeda would use every chance to strike at the Saudi
"Much has been said about the Syrian influence," Rahall added. "Syria is a neighborly Arab country, a brotherly country to Lebanon; and it certainly has its interest in that country, as two neighbors always will have."
In remarks inserted in the Congressional Record, Boustany recalled that Hariri " began his career as a civil servant at a time when his country was in desperate need of rehabilitation. In 1990
Lebanon had just emerged from a 15-year civil war an exhausted nation with an uncertain future. As Prime Minister, Mr. Hariri
worked tirelessly to restore the nation's economic and political health. By establishing stable loan programs with various
foreign powers, Mr. Hariri secured much needed reconstruction funds with which he rebuilt Lebanon's infrastructure. He
oversaw the higher education of tens of thousands of Lebanese students and put forth a sizeable proportion of his own fortune
toward social, education, and transportation projects. Mr. Hariri worked for a unified Lebanon, free from the social
divisions of war and restored to its former state of health and stability.
"As a descendent of Lebanese immigrants," said Boustany, "I retain a deep personal interest in the welfare of my ancestral country. I followed
Mr. Hariri's struggles as Prime Minister to put Lebanon back on firm footing and admired his determination. Now that Mr.
Hariri has passed away, I can only hope that his cause will continue to be carried out by those who must now fill his place."