Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat- Mamun al-Homsi, a leading figure in the Syrian opposition group known as the “Damascus Spring,” has revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat the shocking reasons behind why he fled Beirut for the United States. The former member of the Syrian People’s Assembly told Asharq Al-Awsat that he was forced to leave after being tipped off that there was a plot to assassinate him. He said that he received information from a Palestinian source that a group would carry out the assassination with the support of members of the Ahmad Jibril’s-affiliated Popular Front [for the Liberation of Palestine] – General Command. He noted that Syrian agencies were trying to reach him and gather information about him through persons claiming to be journalists.
Al-Homsi was the first figure in the “Damascus Spring” group against whom Damascus passed a five-year prison sentence on charges of attempting “to change the Constitution through illegal means”. He was arrested in the summer of 2001 after criticizing the Syrian government’s record on human rights and corruption.
Al-Homsi, who had earlier been arrested in Syria with Riyadh al-Turk, Dr. Kamal Labwani, and other oppositionists, gave details surrounding his release from jail and travel to Beirut. He said that the Arab Lawyers Federation held a meeting in Damascus in April 2006 in solidarity with Syria’s position on the International Tribunal [in the case of the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri]. The Arab Lawyer’s Federation had stipulated the release of the “Damascus Spring” detainees before holding the meeting. The detainees were released after standing trial. Al-Homsi noted that among those who stood trial was human rights activist Michel Kilo, who is still under arrest. However, a week after the trial the released opponents were rearrested. Al-Homsi said that he was later released and ordered to leave Syria after his house was surrounded by security agents. He said that he was forced to leave for the Jordanian capital of Amman where he had some relatives. He said that he and Dr. Labwani were the only oppositionists of the five leaders of the “Damascus Spring” group to be issued with Syrian passports. He said that Dr. Labwani was later arrested upon return to Syria from a visit to the United States.
Al-Homsi said that during his stay in Jordan he did not engage in any political activity, but traveled to Beirut for one day where he released a statement appealing to the European Parliaments Union to make an overture toward Damascus for the release of the “Damascus Spring” detainees, and calling for the withdrawal of the EU ambassadors from Syria.
After addressing the appeal, a statement was released by the Syrian News Agency, SANA, requesting the Jordanian authorities to deport Syrian opponents because their presence in Jordan ran counter to the Arab League Charter. He noted that the Syrian statement meant him because it later specifically mentioned his name.
Al-Homsi said that the Jordanian authorities summoned him and notified him of the need to leave Jordan, explaining that Syria threatened to cut off water supplies to Jordan if the Syrian opponents were not deported. He said that he returned his four children to Syria and traveled to Beirut, where he continued his opposition activities through the Beirut Secretariat of the Damascus Declaration, which was very careful to avoid meddling in Lebanese domestic affairs. He said that he and members of the secretariat took security precautions in Beirut, but still felt that they were not safe.
Al-Homsi pointed out that the Syrian security agencies were trying to reach him and gather information about him through persons claiming to be journalists, including a woman who said that she was working for an Arab satellite channel. He added: “The woman gave me her mobile telephone number. I contacted her two days later, but received no answer. Press sources in the Lebanese capital told me that they never heard of her. Later a journalist contacted me and told me that he was preparing a file on human rights in Syria, but I noticed that he wanted information about the place of my residence and about my movements. He then disappeared.”
Al-Homsi said that he contacted the American Embassy in Beirut to help him leave Lebanon, adding: “US Embassy officials expressed readiness to facilitate my departure and ensure my safety until I have left Beirut Airport.” He noted that he got a US entry visa but that his wife was unable to get a visa because she had no travel documents. He said that his children in Damascus are still not allowed to leave Syria.
He said he then went to the Beirut Airport where he stayed for 12 hours because he did not want to buy a ticket to any designation before arriving at the airport for fear that news of his travel might be leaked. From Beirut Airport he flew to Amman where the airport authorities notified him that he was not allowed to stay and that he had to return to Lebanon, but he refused. At Amman Airport he bought a ticket to Washington and the authorities at Amman airport later permitted him to travel to Washington aboard a Jordanian Airlines airliner on a regular flight from Jordan to Washington via Paris.
Al-Homsi said that at Amman Airport he asked employees to make sure that his suitcases were shipped to Washington, but after arrival at Washington’s Airport he found out that his suitcases were replaced with other empty suitcases with the same color and size. He said that his missing suitcases contained his personal documents, a laptop, and personal clothing. He stressed that he would continue his political activity from Washington, but “without accepting dictates from party,” as he put it. He noted that he arrived in Washington a week ago and was staying with friends.
Al-Homsi met with US President George Bush at the White House early this year. He said that so far he has not met with any US Administration officials.