- The Washington Times - Friday, March 4, 2005

MUKHTARA, Lebanon — Walid Jumblatt was optimistic yesterday, saying that despite his well-founded fear of assassination, Lebanon was at the dawn of a new day.

“What we are seeing in Lebanon now is a remarkable sense of national unity,” he said, protected by guards in the safety of his family’s mountain redoubt.

“We are seeing the national anthem being sung for the first time; we are seeing people from all parts of society joining together — it really is remarkable. And the thing that cements this all together is the blood of Mr. Hariri.”

But he was realistic about the danger.

“My father, grandfather and aunt were all assassinated, so I know what can happen here in Lebanon,” he said in an interview.

The castle, which has been his family’s home for centuries, bore testament to the staying power of the Jumblatts, the leading family in Lebanon’s small but proudly independent Druze community that forms about 10 percent of the 4.3 million population.

On display was a Lenin Peace Prize medal presented to his father in Moscow. Mr. Jumblatt remains a socialist in name, but is unafraid of capitalist trappings, wearing blue jeans and enjoying his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Outside, a helicopter from the Syrian-controlled Lebanese army buzzed overhead, in an implied threat.

“Syrians killed my father for political reasons,” he said. “This helicopter comes every day about this time.”

As leader of the Druze during Lebanon’s civil war, Mr. Jumblatt knows all about the country’s deep political divisions. He seesawed between alliances with Syrian-backed and Israeli-backed groups in the 1980s.

After the Valentine’s Day murder of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister who dared to stand up to Syria, Mr. Jumblatt has been a key figure in the “Cedar Revolution” demanding an end to Damascus’ decades-long intervention in Lebanon.

It was to Mukhtara Castle that the main opposition parties in Lebanon sent representatives in the wake of Monday’s resignation of the pro-Syrian government led by Prime Minister Omar Karami.

The opposition parties hammered out a list of demands — full withdrawal of all Syrian troops, resignation of seven senior figures in Lebanon’s military and intelligence world.

But it became apparent the opposition would not be able to form a new government without the tacit support of Hezbollah, the extremist party that draws support from Lebanon’s large Shi’ite minority.

Mr. Jumblatt sent one his most trusted Druze lieutenants to begin negotiations with Hezbollah.

“This is not easy; it will not happen overnight,” he said. “Hezbollah is a real force here in Lebanon. They are Lebanese people, not puppets from outside, and they have their own interests.”

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