Interviews with terrorists arose Lebanese anger

BEIRUT — A primetime broadcast on Syrian state television two weeks ago worked the region’s media into a storm — and neighbors Syria and Lebanon into renewed political tension.

On Nov. 6 Syria TV aired a series of edited interviews with a group of people claiming responsibility for a September car bomb in Damascus that killed 17 people.

Ten men and one woman confessed on air to being members of Fatah al-Islam, a militant group that battled the Lebanese army for more than three months in neighboring North Lebanon in summer 2007. Sole woman in the group was identified as the daughter of Fatah al-Islam fugitive leader Shaker al-Absi.

The montage of interviews against a black background also showed captured militant weapons, including TNT, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and rifles.

The state broadcaster made no mention of the programming on its website, and the government has yet to release details of when and where the alleged terrorists were detained.

The international media has described the broadcast as an attempt by Syrian authorities to portray themselves as partners in the global war on terror. The U.S. has long accused Syria of failing to cooperate with anti-insurgency efforts along the Syria-Iraq border.

But in Lebanon, reactions have focused on the allegation that explosives for the Damascus car bomb were brought in from North Lebanon, where — the interviewees said — Fatah al-Islam is financed by Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri and his anti-Syrian Future party.

In response, the Hariri-owned Al-Mustaqbal newspaper published statements by Fatah al-Islam militants captured in Lebanon who claim the group was instead armed and trained by Syrian intelligence officers.

All this has taken place just as Syria and Lebanon finalize the establishment of diplomatic relations for the first time in their history.

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