01/02/2006, 00.00
SYRIA– LEBANON – UNITED NATIONS
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UN commission's request for an interview with Assad a bombshell

The request stems from the inquiry into the Hariri assassination and follows statements made by former Syrian Vice President Khaddam according to whom Syrian intelligence services could not have carried out any operation without Syrian President Assad being informed. Lebanese President Lahoud is also involved.

Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) – UN commission probing the killing of Lebanese ex-Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri has asked to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara as soon as possible. UN investigators also want to meet former Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam.

UN commission spokeswoman Nasra Hassan officially made the request today—it had already been talked about yesterday—and is waiting for an official Syrian response.

This decision, which is likely to have serious consequences for the region, comes in the wake of statements made on Friday by Khaddam.

According to the former VP, Assad made explicit threats against Hariri and he could not have been unaware of preparations for the February 14 attack that killed Hariri and 20 other people. In his view, Syrian intelligence services could not have carried out any operation without Assad knowing about it.

In the Syrian capital yesterday, Ali Sadrudin Al-Bayouni, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria which the Assad regime has persecuted for a long time, agreed that "Khaddam's testimony will break up the power monopoly in Syria" and might force a regime change turning Syria into a democratic country

For some time now, the UN commission was pointing the finger at the Syrian regime and elements in the Lebanese security apparatus during Syria's occupation of Lebanon. UN Resolution 1644 requires Syria to honestly cooperate with the investigators.

Repercussions from what Syrian opposition writer Akram al-Beni has called "a bombshell" dropped on the Assad regime threatens to hit Beirut as well.

Khaddam, who has been living in exile in Paris since his resignation six months ago, told the al-Arabiya TV Network that current Lebanese President Émile Lahoud and ex Director General of the Sûreté Générale Jamil Sayyed "incited" Assad to act against Hariri. Calls for Lahoud's resignation have already been made in Lebanon's parliament.

Khaddam, who attended Hariri's funeral in Beirut looking visibly shaken at the time, said that just before Hariri's death he told him to "leave Lebanon because things were getting complicated in Damascus".

No official reaction has yet to come from Damascus. Syria has always denied any involvement in the Hariri assassination and for months has tried to discredit the work of the UN commission of inquiry led by German Judge Detlev Mehlis.

On Saturday, Syria's ruling Baath party expelled Khaddam. In the Syrian parliament, which is dominated by Assad cronies, many lawmakers called the former VP a traitor.

Speaker Mahmoud Al-Abrash told the assembly that the parliament's switchboard had been choked by calls from citizens who wanted Khaddam to be prosecuted for treason.

Another legislator, Suad Bakkour, introduced a motion demanding that Khaddam stand trial.

Today, Syria's official newspaper As-Saoura announced that the government will take the necessary steps to try Khaddam for high treason and launched a probe in alleged corruption involving the former leader. The paper also reported the confiscation of all of Khaddam's assets.

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