Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Lebanese Future Movement MP Okab Sakr confirmed the authenticity of audio recordings implicating him in arms transfers to Syrian rebels, stressing that he is “not ashamed” of his actions which are in “Lebanon’s best interest.” He said that he is prepared for the judicial consequences of his actions and would not seek to hide behind his parliamentary immunity.
Last week Lebanon’s al-Akhbar newspaper published recordings of Sakr organizing weapons transferred to Syrian rebel groups, reportedly at the behest of Future Movement leader Saad Hariri. A transcript of one recording, a phone call between the Lebanese MP and a Syrian rebel leader, sees Sakr ask him “please tell me the weapons you want. What are the quantities?” The Syrian rebel leader lists his requirements, which include “300 rocket-propelled grenades and 20 launchers” adding “if it is possible, provide 250,000 Russian rounds [for AK-47s], 300 machineguns, and some special pieces of arms.” The Syrian rebel commander also stressed that “we need to do it as fast as possible, because there’s a big need and the shelling continues. People are scattered and there’s no ammunition. The men, each one barely has one or two magazines, and there’s a large consumption [of ammunition]. Try to get them [the arms] in any way possible, God bless you. I don’t know what to say, after God there is only you.”
These audio recordings, which have lately been confirmed by MP Sakr, aroused considerable controversy across Lebanon, with Future Movement opposition decrying these actions and condemning Sakr and Hariri. Pro-Syrian forces in Lebanon have called for Sakr to be brought to account for his arming of the Syrian rebels, calling for the revocation of his parliamentary immunity. In addition to this, some Future Movement figures have rushed to distance themselves from MP Sakr. Asharq Al-Awsat has learnt that Sakr is “very angry” regarding the campaign that has been launched against him, as well as some of the statements that have been issued against him, likening this to a feeding frenzy, whilst intensive debate is raging within the Future Movement regarding how to deal with this crisis.
As for the source of these recordings, Lebanon’s al-Akhbar newspaper revealed that it had received an anonymous phone call from somebody claiming to be in possession of audio recordings of Sakr coordinating arms deals with the Syrian rebels. The source claimed to have worked with Sakr for more than a year as part of an operation center established to support the Syrian revolution, adding that several such operation centers were in existence, including in Antakya, Adana and Istanbul.
MP Okab Sakr spoke exclusively with Asharq Al-Awsat about these audio recordings, confirming “Yes. This is my voice and those are my words. I am not in the habit of denying my words or voice and I am not ashamed of what I have done and am doing.”
He added “I have always abided by the law and I am willing to accept any legal measures and if some want to strip me of my [parliamentary] immunity, let them do so; I am not hiding behind my immunity. However let me ask this: will the others accused of involvement in Syria abandon their [legal] immunity and face trial alongside me?”
Sakr stressed that “what I am doing in Syria embodies my convictions and it is in the best interests of Lebanon. I bear personal responsible for what I am doing.” He added “if I am called for accountability then I am ready for the courts to take their course until the end, without any hindrance.”
As for the calls that he should apologize, he said “if – and I stress this if – I owe an apology to anybody in Lebanon or Syria, then I will not be late in apologizing to the Lebanese and Syrian peoples.”
He added “I have much that I will say in the near future and I will speak frankly, and after this each party must bear their own responsibilities. I know that what is happening is cheap exploitation of a certain incident, the objective of which is political assassination which paves the way for physical assassination…that is why I will respond soon to the followers of this logic.”
As for the true extent of his involvement in the Syrian crisis, he told Asharq Al-Awsat “I will explain everything in a clear manner, and everything I say will be recorded as I will say this live on air” adding “I will do this out of my concern for Lebanon, first and foremost, and my conviction of the nobility and sanctity of the Syrian revolution and the great Syrian people.” He stressed that “historically, no people have tasted such injustice from so many countries at one time, with the exception of the Palestinian people.”
Regarding al-Akhbar newspaper’s claims that he was acting on behalf of Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, Sakr stressed that “Hariri asked me to provide the Syrians with humanitarian, political and media aid – no more and no less” adding “this campaign against me aims to suppress and distort this.”
Speaking following MP Sakr’s confirmation of the al-Akhbar newspaper transcripts, Free Syrian Army [FSA] spokesman Louay Miqdad informed Lebanon’s New TV that he worked with the Future Movement MP in such an “operation center”.
Miqdad stressed that these centers were not restricted to “military” operations but included “all sorts of activities.” He also denied the reports that Hariri could be heard in one of the leaked phone conversations, saying “it was actually my voice” adding “I am surprised at the insolence of the media outlets in broadcasting these recordings.”
For his part, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman called on Monday for Lebanese politicians not to get involved in the Syrian crisis in line with the country’s disassociation policy towards events there. The Lebanese president’s press office issued a statement saying “President Suleiman hopes that everyone in Lebanon remains committed to the policy that the government adopted as well as the National Dialogue Committee via the Baabda Declaration which stipulates distancing Lebanon from others’ conflict and not intervening in their affairs.”