10/21/2005, 00.00
SYRIA – LEBANON – UNITED NATIONS
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Mehlis report, right to the heart of Syria's regime

by Jihad Issa e Youssef Hourany
Syria rejects the report's conclusions and calls on Arab media to attack it, but in many Syrian mosques people are worried of what the Security Council might do.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – For many Lebanese observers, the release of the Mehlis report has sent shock waves across Syria's political landscape, striking at the heart of its ruling regime.

According to the report, "there is probable cause to believe" that the decision to assassinate Rafik Hariri could not have been taken without the approval of "top-ranked" Syrian security officials. It could not have been organised "without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services".

From Damascus, Information Minister Mehdi Dakhlallah was the first Syrian official to react to the report, saying it "is far from professional and will not lead us to the truth. [. . .] It was 100 per cent politicized [. . .] It is a political statement against Syria based on allegations by witnesses known for their hostility to Syria".

Speaking to our Damascus correspondent Jihad Issa, the minister was extremely critical of the allegations concerning the involvement of President Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat in the assassination.

He went on to say that the Syrian government was preparing a diplomatic response to the UN report.

In his opinion, US interest in Lebanon was largely a function of its failed policy in Iraq, stressing that the main cause for its conflict in Iraq is to be found in Iraq, not Lebanon. And for relations between Syria and United States to improve, something has to be down over Iraq.

Damascus is calling on Arab media, especially satellite TV, to launch a campaign against the report and urging the international community to be impartial in interpreting its content because "it has been highly influenced by the deterioration in relations between Syria and the international community".

Lebanon's Education Minister Khaled Qabbani said that the report was highly technical, based on facts and not politics, pointing to future political developments and controversy.

Western diplomatic sources in Beirut have said that the German prosecutor's investigation was precise and powerful.

Both in Damascus and Beirut, people are now waiting for next Tuesday's Security Council meeting which is scheduled to discuss the Mehlis report.

What is worrisome to many is the fact that the report implies that "[i]t is incumbent upon Syria to clarify a considerable part of the unresolved questions".

In Syria people are defiant but some are very worried. Streets are full banners hailing President Assad as the "Lion of the Arabs", pledging "We are with Bashar", claiming "We are innocent. Ask the Americans who killed Hariri", demanding "America, leave Iraq and we'll have peace".

Today's sermons in many of Syria's mosques also voiced accusations against the report's conclusions. "Our real problem with the Americans is not the situation in Lebanon, but in Iraq," said Sheik Hassan Safi, imam of Homs.

But a general atmosphere of frustration and malaise is affecting mosque goers. Many are asking themselves whether the Mehlis report is telling the truth or is just part of a conspiracy to break the Syrians.

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