Damascus: Former Syrian-Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam has died at his Paris exile, aged 87. Khaddam famously announced his defection through Al Arabiya channel on New Year’s Eve in 2005, blaming President Bashar Al Assad for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
He then teamed up with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, creating the National Salvation Front to bring down the Syrian government, which ended in failure.
Born in the coastal town of Banias in September 1932, he joined the Baath Party while studying law at Damascus University. After the Baath came to power in March 1963, he quickly rose through the party apparatus, becoming governor of Hama, a city in the Syrian midland, where he helped crush a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in April 1964.
He then became governor of Quneitra, the principle town in the Golan Heights, where he served until its occupation by Israel after the Six Day War of 1967.
Returning to Damascus, he was appointed minister of economy in May 1969, remaining at his job until his friend and boss Hafez Al Assad came to power in November 1970.
Foreign minister 1970-1984
Al Assad then entrusted Khaddam with the portfolio of foreign affairs, which he held for fourteen years. Khaddam presided over Syria’s foreign policy during the 1973 October War with Israel, before being appointed to oversee Syrian intervention in the Lebanese Civil War that erupted in 1975.
In 1977, he suffered an assassination attempt at Abu Dhabi International Airport, carried out by Palestinian military chief Sabri Al Banna (aka Abu Nidal), a defector from Yasser Arafat’s Fateh Movement. Khaddam survived but the UAE Foreign Minister Saif Ghobash was killed instead.
He was also the first Syrian official to visit Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, where he was received by Ayatollah Rohallah Khomeini.
In March 1984, Khaddam was appointed vice-president of the republic, charged with handling the Lebanese portfolio and overseeing the final chapters of the country’s civil war. So powerful did Khaddam become in post-war Lebanon that the Lebanese nicknamed him the “vali,” or governor, and he played an important role in nominating Hariri for the premiership in 1992. A strong relationship developed between him and Hariri, which lasted until Hariri’s assassination on February 14, 2005.
When Hafez Al Assad died in June 2000, Khaddam signed off a decree, making his son and heir apparent, Bashar Al Assad, commander-in-chief of the Syrian Armed Forces. When Al Assad became president that July, he renewed Khaddam’s tenure as vice-president.
Khaddam fell out with Al Assad in 2004, when he disapproved the renewal of General Emile Lahoud’s tenure as president, given the latter’s feud with Hariri. In the summer of 2005, he was discharged from his post as vice-president and replaced by foreign minister Farouk Al Shara. Khaddam travelled to France, from where he announced his defection on December 30, 2005.
He was charged with high treason and expelled from the Baath Party.