- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2006

MOUKHTARA, Lebanon — Walid Jumblatt seemed admirably composed for a man whose name had just appeared on a hit list of Lebanese public figures.

“The whole of Lebanon is on the death list, not only me,” said the Druze leader and anti-Syrian figure, speaking from his elegant castle in the Shouf mountains south of Beirut.

“The Syrian regime will not accept easily its defeat last year when the Lebanese people obliged them to get out. The regular forces left, but [its] agents are still here.”

Mr. Jumblatt, 56, has taken precautions; for the moment, he is not leaving his domain in the mountains. But over the weekend, the invective against President Bashar Assad of Syria was flowing as unstoppably as the water tumbling through the gardens of his 19th-century palace.

“The only way to topple this guy is to try him like [defeated Serbian leader Slobodan] Milosevic,” he said.

As for the Ba’ath Party led by Mr. Assad, Mr. Jumblatt says, “There is no difference in essence between the Iraqi Ba’athists and the Syrian Ba’athists. … The worst regimes are the Ba’athist regimes.”

Under the Syrians, he said, “tens of thousands of people were imprisoned. Intellectuals and politicians from Syria, from Lebanon, from Palestine were killed, executed.”

They include Mr. Jumblatt’s father, Kamal, who was assassinated in 1977.

Mr. Jumblatt urged the Syrian opposition to seek Western support to help topple the beleaguered Damascus government.

“I am not calling for military intervention in Syria, but I am asking the Syrian opposition to decide that without Western help, there can be no change — without [it], they will be in jail or exiled and will be blackmailed and killed.”

Mr. Jumblatt’s voice rings particularly loudly in the ever-bolder anti-Syrian chorus in Lebanon. The outcry has been joined by refugees from the administration.

The most prominent is Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president, who has suggested from exile in Paris that Mr. Assad was behind the assassination last year of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Mr. Khaddam also announced that he was working to create a national alliance to overthrow the government.

Mr. Khaddam’s defection to the opposition has more to do with his fall from grace in a system that he served loyally for many years than any late conversion to the cause of democracy and human rights.

The 74-year-old had been a confidant of former President Hafez Assad but is thought to have been marked for removal by his son, the current leader, in a drive to remove the old guard and root out corruption.

Asked about Mr. Khaddam’s credibility, Mr. Jumblatt said cautiously, “He is courageous. They can’t accuse him of being a traitor.”

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