01/03/2006, 00.00
SYRIA – LEBANON – UNITED NATIONS
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Syria to reject UN request to interview Assad

by Jihad Issa
Damascus asserts it is willing to cooperate as long as the dignity of the president is upheld. It might be willing to see its foreign minister talk to the commission. People are waiting to see the outcome of Mubarak visit to Saudi Arabia.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – Syria has rejected the request by the UN probe into the Hariri assassination to interview President Bashar al-Assad, this according to sources in Damascus, who confirm the request to interview the president and Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa was received.

In an editorial article addressed to the nation, state-owned newspaper al-Sawra (The Revolution) writes: "Despite enemy pressures, we want a Middle East in peace and reconciled. Syria will be able to calm the storm because we are innocent".

The article comes after UN commission of inquiry spokeswoman Nasrat Hassan said the request to interview Assad and al-Sharaa was made as a result of statements made by former Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam to al-Arabiya TV network according to which the Syrian president and his collaborators played an important role in the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Well-informed  sources in Syria have told AsiaNews that the "Syrian government is going very carefully over the commission's request" and that is "fully willing to cooperate with the United nations as long as the sovereignty of the country and the dignity of the president—who is the symbol of that sovereignty—are not attacked." The government's legal experts are closely examining the UN request.

The same sources, who prefer to remain anonymous, have said that the Syrian authorities will reject the UN commission' request because "it belittles Syria's regional role and attacks the president who, like all heads of state, is protected under international law". However, the sources said that Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa might be interviewed "to clear up some points".

Reactions are mixed in the streets of Syria. Whilst some people view Khaddam's accusations as a reaction to his dismissal in June; others view them as a personal vendetta against the insult to his dignity as a man of means. They see his statements as part of the anti-Syrian campaign and are still convinced that their government had nothing to do with the Hariri assassination.

Hassan Abdel-Azim, spokesman for the National Democratic Movement which some months ago released the 'Declaration of Damascus' that called for Assad's removal, told AsiaNews that Khaddam's statement must be seen "in the framework of a revolt that should be encouraged. He said that the call made by the Syrian parliament to try Khaddam before the country's highest court was an "unjust decision that won't happen because the current regime will be soon be overthrown". He added that the former vice president should be taken seriously since "he was part of the regime and knows its inner workings".

Concern but also hope prevail in Syria. Many are convinced that the Arab world will not abandon them. Many are waiting to see what Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has to say after he meets Saudi King Abdallah and his advisors to discuss the Syria-Lebanon question in light of the UN commission's request and ahead of the probable return to Syria of US Ambassador Margaret Scobey on January 6.

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