BEIRUT // Wiretaps implicating a Lebanese member of parliament close to ex-premier Saad Hariri in arms shipments to Syrian rebels has stirred fresh controversy in Lebanon, which is deeply divided over the civil war raging in its neighbour.
Published on Thursday in Al Akhbar newspaper and broadcast on OTV television, both considered pro-Damascus outlets, the conversations were authenticated on Monday by the MP in question, Okab Sakr.
Mr Sakr is one of the few Shiite parliamentarians belonging to the opposition Future bloc headed by Sunni leader Mr Hariri and both men currently live outside of Lebanon.
In the wiretaps released on Thursday, Mr Sakr is heard speaking on the telephone with a rebel commander in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo, who asks urgently for weapons.
"May God protect you. You must help us. I do not know what to tell you, but what is certain is that after God, there is only you," the rebel leader says.
In a second recording released on Friday, Sakr is heard demanding arms from an unidentified dealer: "We need automatic weapons, ammunition for PKCs [Russian guns], anti-tank rockets, bombs and quality weapons for Aleppo city and province and Idlib province. We must meet the demand as soon as possible."
And in a third recording released the same day, the MP speaks with a rebel leader responsible for distributing arms in central Syria. "I will give you instructions for the guys to maximise the quality of the weapons," he says.
In the last conversation published on Saturday, Sakr is heard speaking to Louay Moqdad, identified by Al Akhbar daily as a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and a personal friend of Mr Sakr.
"It's driving President Hariri crazy, he wants victory so much he can't even sleep. He follows the situation hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. He wants the battle to succeed. There is no room for failure."
In an interview published on Monday by the Saudi daily Asharq Al Awsat, Mr Sakr verified the recordings but absolved Hariri of any wrongdoing.
"Yes, it is my voice and they are my words," Mr Sakr said.
"I'm not ashamed of what I did and what I am doing ... What I do reflects my deep conviction and is in the interest of Lebanon. I am personally responsible for everything I do."
Sakr also rushed to clear Hariri's name: "He asked me to take care of only the humanitarian, political and media support for the Syrian people — nothing more and nothing less."
The recordings have embarrassed Sakr's political allies, namely the March 14 opposition coalition opposed to the Syrian regime, whose members include Christians from the Lebanese Forces party and Sunnis of the Future Movement.
"The Future position is clear: We oppose any intervention on the ground in Syria because we reject any Syrian intervention in Lebanon, regardless of what regime controls Damascus," MP Ahmad Fatfat told AFP.
Lebanon lived under Syrian domination from 1976 until 2005, when Damascus was forced to pull out its troops from the country under international pressure following the assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, Saad Hariri's father.
"Okab Sakr is acting on his own. Hariri is very clear about this. and will take the appropriate decisions if there was a breach by Sakr," Fatfat said.
Hariri's critics refuse to believe that Sakr acted on his own accord.
Although Hizbollah, Syria's staunchest ally in Lebanon, has refrained from commenting directly on the recordings, the Shiite movement's television channel Al Manar delivered a blistering commentary last week.
The recordings "unambiguously confirm the involvement of the Future party [in arms deliveries to rebels] because Sakr is the man closest to Hariri. He is his right arm," Al Manar said.