Syria’s former spy chief dies in unclear circumstances

The cause and circumstances of his death were not immediately clear

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Rustom Ghazali, Syria’s last chief of intelligence in Lebanon who was a suspect in the killing of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, has died in Damascus, Lebanese media reported.

A Lebanese source with ties to Damascus also said that Ghazali had died on Friday. The cause and circumstances of his death were not immediately clear. There was no mention of his death on state media and the Syrian government made no statement.

Ghazali, in his 60s, succeeded Ghazi Kanaan as head of military intelligence in Lebanon in 2002 during Syria’s tutelage over Lebanon, which lasted until Damascus pulled its troops from the country in 2005.

He was one of Syria’s key operatives in Lebanon when Damascus was the country’s main power broker and deeply involved in internal political affairs after the end of civil war in 1990.

Lebanon’s ties with Syria hit rock bottom after the assassination of Hariri in 2005 and accusations of Syrian involvement, which Damascus has always denied.

Demonstrations in Lebanon over the killing of Hariri forced Syria to withdraw its 15,000 soldiers in April of that year, ending three decades of military presence in its smaller neighbour.

U.N. investigators questioned Ghazali in September 2005 as a suspect in the Hariri killing. He was widely believed to be on the list of people to be brought to the tribunal to testify in the coming months.

Opposition reports say he had been dismissed over his alleged opposition to the prominent role played by Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah and Iran in the Syrian offensive to wrest back large parts of southern Syria from rebel hands.

Several sources said that Ghazali had a fallout with the powerful head of Military Intelligence Rafik Shehadeh.

Ghazali was born in 1952 in the village of Qarfa in Syria’s Deraa province. He was appointed in 2002 as head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon replacing Ghazi Kanaan, who was made interior minister. In 2005, Kanaan was found dead on his desk. The authorities said he committed suicide.

Ghazali was appointed head of political intelligence in 2012 shortly after a powerful blast killed and injured a number of top military and security officials.