Thank you very much for your kind invitation.
I just want to tell you that I really appreciate your invitation, as a member of Parliament here in Lebanon. We need big support from the international community in order to apply a real independent and sovereign regime in Lebanon, with all that is happening today in the area—especially in Syria, which is trying as much as it can to influence the interior political situation in Lebanon.
I'm going to speak in French.
I have prepared a brief presentation that provides somewhat of a summary of the Syrian influence in Lebanon and how that influence has developed from the 1960s to today. I will also address what Syria's objective in Lebanon has essentially been since the Ba'ath Party came to power, with President Assad taking office in 1970, and over the 42 years of the Assad family's presidency: 30 years for the father and 12 years for the son. I will also explain how that regime has done its utmost to exercise total domination over Lebanon, and especially how it has tried to eliminate the Christians of Lebanon, this being a major issue today.
As you know, the big question that arises in Syria today, which we will address later, is whether the Christians are in danger: whether they will be safe in Syria in the post-Assad period. These are questions that I will try to answer as objectively as possible, and most importantly as knowledgeably as possible about what the Syrian regime has committed in Lebanon.
If you do not mind, I will start with a quick summary of the situation between Lebanon and Syria.
First, I would like to say that Lebanon has never been a country that was annexed as part of Syria or a territory under Syrian control, although Syria has always wanted to annex Lebanon to Syria.
Lebanon achieved independence well before the Syrians. It secured independence from the French in 1943, while Syria gained its own independence some years later. Before that, the territories of Syria and Lebanon were under the Ottoman Empire, and they were then administered by the French. During those periods, relations between the two countries experienced highs and lows, in several phases, until 1964 when the Ba'ath Party took power.
In 1970, when President Hafez al-Assad took power by force in Syria, by his semi-coup d'état, he decided to attack Lebanon directly and control it by force.
This control by force has been marked by several phases over the centuries, but all of the phases are identical. The Syrians have always tried to control Lebanon and exercise total domination over it. They did this first by force of arms, and then mainly by using factions, groups, political parties or military parties in Lebanon and supporting them militarily, politically and especially financially. That is why, from the beginning of their journey, the Syrians have supported and sustained the armed Palestinian movements in Lebanon.
Here, I would just like to note that what was called the Palestinian Liberation Army was based in Syria, but conducted no military actions from Syria. The Syrians always sent these armies and factions to use Lebanon for their battleground, to create a sort of chaos inside Lebanon. In fact, in 1975, it was transformed into a war between the Lebanese and the Palestinians: the Lebanon-Palestine war was fought from 1975 to about 1982.
Then, in 1976, after Lebanon went to war with the Palestinians, the Syrians decided to support the Palestinians all the way. Moreover, that same year, the Syrians decided to enter Lebanon directly and officially with their army, under cover of the Arab Deterrent Force, 90% of which unfortunately consisted of the Syrian army and 10% of other armies, including the United Arab Emirates and Libya. All the other Arab parties made up only 10% of the Arab Deterrent Force. That was when Syria really decided, instead of halting the fighting between the Palestinians and the Lebanese, to completely control the country and exercise total domination over all state institutions.
This situation has lasted since 1976. The Syrians are still present in Lebanon. They have considered Lebanon to be an occupied country under their authority. This situation has created human, political, economic and social terror in Lebanon over the 35 years of Syrian occupation.
I skip ahead quickly and take us to the year 2000, when the Israeli troops withdrew from Lebanon. From that year forward, after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory, many Lebanese political voices have made themselves heard, mainly voices other than the Christians. It must be noted that for 30 years, it is the Christians who have called most for the withdrawal of Syrian troops. After 2000, there was no longer any excuse for the Syrian presence in Lebanon to continue. As a result, many voices, such as the Sunni, with Rafic Hariri, and the Druze, with Walid Jumblatt, started to call for the withdrawal of Syrian troops, and especially for a reduction of the Syrians' role in Lebanon.
In 2004, it culminated in a sort of meeting and alliance between Rafic Hariri and Walid Jumblatt, first, and then between those two poles, Sunni and Druze, and the Christians, to form a genuine sovereignist coalition. That coalition against the Syrians in Lebanon had two goals: first, the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon; and second, the demilitarization of Hezbollah and the total elimination of its weapons. That coalition worked hard, and ultimately, in September 2004, produced the famous Resolution 1559, with which you are familiar, calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the total disarming of Hezbollah within Lebanese territory.
In response to the United Nations decision, the Syrians decided to return to Lebanon by force, extending the term of their president, or their strongman, in the country, Émile Lahoud, whom they had appointed themselves and trained from a young age to be president of the republic. That was when the reign of terror started, with the 12 assassinations in Lebanon ordered by the Syrians. The minister Marwan Hamadeh was the first victim of a series of assassinations in late 2004. The goal of that assassination was essentially to remind all Lebanese and everyone working for Lebanese independence, and who wanted to liberate their country from the Syrian troops, that they would be killed by the Syrians just as Kamal Jumblatt was in 1977, Bachir Gemayel was in 1982 and president René Moawad was in 1989. The Syrians' goal was to remind them that everyone demanding independence and sovereignty for Lebanon would be killed. A series of assassinations ordered by the Syrians then started, although the perpetrators were sometimes different. They would be different over the next few years.
The liberation of Lebanon came in 2005 with the famous March 14 Alliance, whose goal was to chase the Syrians from the country. Before continuing, I would note that these assassinations were essentially part of a very specific strategy on the part of the Syrians in Lebanon: like their Iranian allies in Lebanon, but particularly Hezbollah, they were starting to feel the wind change. As well, there were polls predicting defeat in the 2005 elections. That is why these people decided to assassinate Rafic Hariri in February 2005. The objective was to change the 2005 parliamentary majority, because that majority was automatically going to lead to the official, legal demand for Syrian withdrawal. And so after the assassination of Rafic Hariri, on February 14, 2005, a huge demonstration was held to demand that the Syrians withdraw from Lebanon. That withdrawal took place on April 26, 2005.
A new period then began. A much stronger kind of coordination developed between the Syrians and the Iranians. Today, the Iran-Syria axis is moving in the same direction, and that is why, when the Syrians withdrew, they decided, with their Iranian allies, to do all they could to support and strengthen Hezbollah's position on the Lebanese political scene. At that point, Hezbollah did its utmost to defend Syrian interests, and especially to veto the creation of an international tribunal as the United Nations voted to do.
After the Syrian withdrawal, there were many assassinations, including a dozen after the assassination of Rafic Hariri. In every case, the people targeted were anti-Syrian writers, journalists, legislators or ministers with sovereignist allegiances. They were all eliminated by the Syrians for purely political reasons.
Hezbollah itself started to act inside Lebanon in the service of Syrian interests. I am going to quickly name several of Hezbollah's initiatives designed to cripple Lebanese institutions and the Lebanese sovereignist movement. As I said earlier, there was the attempt to veto the creation of an international tribunal. There was then the 2006 war that Hezbollah itself started against Israel, and that ended in total defeat for Lebanon, economically, socially and financially. Finally, on May 7, 2008, there was an attempt to invade Beirut by terror and weapons. Hezbollah decided, on impulse, to move on an entire portion of Beirut, simply to sow terror and try to establish its influence by force of arms. Fifty people died.
I want to point out that we are working for the independence of Lebanon in two respects today: first, there is internal independence, from Hezbollah; and second, there is external independence, in relation to the Syrian and Iranian influences that are trying to impose themselves on Lebanon.
I think you have paid close attention to the belligerent action by Hezbollah, which not long ago sent a drone over Israeli territory. There were a lot of statements made, particularly by senior Iranian military officers, saying that the Iranian army was currently in possession of images of the drone and was analyzing them. That shows that Hezbollah is an Iranian agent par excellence, that the alliance that exists today between Iran and Syria has Hezbollah as its arm in Lebanon. Hezbollah's influence today—
Thank you for being here, Mr. Gemayel. It is very good of you to give us your time this way. It is very interesting to hear the perspective of someone in your situation.
Like my colleague Mr. Dewar, I was at the summit of La Francophonie in Beirut with former Prime Minister Chrétien, nearly 10 years ago. That was an eye-opening experience for me, and I hope to return to Lebanon. As you know, the Lebanese-Canadian community is very important in our society. It is a privilege to have you with us.
I would like to go back a little to my colleagues' questions. Mr. Dewar asked you earlier to give a brief description of the influence of the conflict in Syria on your country. You referred to that in your comments at the beginning. I would be happy if you would say a little more about the consequences of the violence in this difficult conflict in Syria on Lebanese society and politics. Is the conflict causing concern in the Christian community? Is it causing divides in that community? There are times when it is not easy. How do you think this conflict, specifically, might inflame the situation in your country?
I would also like to go back to Mr. Dechert's last question, which I thought was interesting. Do you have any advice for Canadians? What, exactly, can we do to put an end to the situation in Syria? Do you think there are measures that Canada or the international community could take? Canada could encourage other countries to bring more pressure to bear, or to propose more ways of putting an end to the situation, which everyone thinks is appalling.
So those are my two questions. If you would be so kind as to offer some clarification for us, it would be appreciated.
Thank you again for your testimony.
First, I would like to thank you for your kind words and tell you that you will always be welcome in Lebanon.
You asked me whether the conflict in Syria had repercussions for politics and the economy in Lebanon. The fact is that in Lebanon, politics is really divided between pro-Syrians and anti-Syrians, that is, between allies of the Syrian regime and sovereignists. The large majority of the people who support the regime are Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon. On the other hand, on the sovereignist side, there are all sorts of people, including Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblatt, Kataeb and the Lebanese forces, who want sovereignty for Lebanon.
Certainly, the conflict is extremely difficult in Lebanon. For example, about a year and a half ago, when Saad Hariri was in the government, the Hezbollah members of the government and their allies withdrew from the government in order to make him resign. He did resign, but because they were unable to form a government as they wanted, they resorted to force. They deployed more than 1,000 men in the streets of Beirut, dressed in black, as a show of force and to have the majority overthrown.
That was when Walid Jumblatt and Najib Mikati, the present prime minister, switched sides to form a government along Hezbollah lines. This present government is under the heel of the Syrians. The international community, including the United Nations and the Arab League, is taking no position against the Syrians and the acts of terror and crimes being committed by the Bashar al-Assad regime. There are huge conflicts and tensions between these two camps. On the one side, there are people who are trying to get the country back on the right track, and on the other, there are people who are trying to take total control of the institutions and the country and create an Iran-Syria-Lebanon axis. What we want is to get Lebanon out of the Iran-Syria axis.
And to answer your second question, how to get rid of the regime, I really have no advice to give, but I think what is needed is a little more pressure, not just economic, but also political, on Damascus's allies, and probably especially on the Turks. It has to start with helping the Syrian people, and here I am talking about the humanitarian aspect, not the political aspect. People in that country are dying by the thousands every day. As of today, over 50,000 people have died, if my figures are correct, but there may have been even more. If things continue the same way, the number of deaths will very soon reach 100,000. I believe President Assad is committing actual genocide against his people. There are many things that can be done.
As the international community, you know more than we do what methods can be used. It could mean a no-fly zone or an international deterrent force. Another possibility would be to do exactly as was done in the case of UNIFIL, which was tasked at the time with confirming the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon. That might at least make it possible to establish a safety zone for the Syrian people, who I can assure you today, have no safety.