01/23/2006, 00.00
SYRIA – LEBANON
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Charges against Damascus raise tensions in Beirut

by Jihad Issa
Jumblatt attacks Syria; Nasrallah defends it. Brammertz might visit the Syrian capital in the next few days.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – International pressures on the Syrian regime are increasingly being felt in Lebanon. Anxiety is growing over what Serge Serge Brammertz, the new head of the United Nations commission of inquiry into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, might do as he begins his work. Some sources expect Mr Brammertz to visit Syria in the next few days.

Officially, the Syrian position is one of appreciation for the Belgian judge's 'understanding attitude', but in a speech that was front and centre in the Syrian press, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed the right not to be treated as a "mere witness" by the commission. He was also highly critical of those Lebanese political leaders who insist on Syria's guilt in the Hariri affair.

Speaking Saturday before the Arab Lawyers' convention—for the first time not attended by Lebanese lawyers—the Syrian president reiterated his willingness to cooperate with the commission as long as it respected Syrian sovereignty. Without naming them, Assad did not mince words about Walid Jumblatt, Samir Geagea, and the members of March 14 Movement (whose protests led to Syrian pullout from Lebanon). Meanwhile, the streets of Damascus saw more "spontaneous" demonstrations take place yesterday in favour of the president.

Jumblatt reacted to the Syrian president's speech by making an appeal to March 14 Movement supporters. He told them to get ready for a sit-in on February 14, the first anniversary of Hariri's assassination. The Druze leader said that Assad's speech was a sign that he was running out of options. He also reiterated his charges against the Syrian government, the "only culprit in all the terrorist incidents in Lebanon during the Syrian presence in Lebanon".

As they continue to paralyse the Lebanese cabinet, pro-Syrian groups in Lebanon echoed Assad's statements. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah yesterday did not refrain from naming the Syrian president's critics. For his support, Syria's state-controlled press heaped praise on the Shiite leader.

In a speech at al-Achraf University, Nasrallah called Jumblatt an "unstable and unbalanced politician guilty of many crimes". By contrast, he expressed his total trust in General Michel Aoun, a "man of integrity capable of leading the country towards stability". This, the daily L'Orient Le Jour wrote, is a sign that Aoun backs Hezbollah.

Nasrallah also criticised the work of the UN commission of inquiry when it was headed by German judge Detlev Mehlis. He called on his successor "not to manipulate and politicise his mission".

Speaking before a crowd of 20,000 in the university's stadium, he said "there was no danger of a civil war in Lebanon because "we [Hezbollah], who are the only ones who could fight it, want peace".

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