Damascus optimistically welcomes UN inquiry chief
by Jihad Issa

The Syrian press has expressed certainty that Brammertz will exonerate the country from accusations linked to Hariri's murder, and will say instead that "Islamic fundamentalists" were behind the murder.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – Today, Damascus is voicing optimism and confidence about the first visit to Syria of Serge Brammertz, the Belgian judge appointed by Kofi Annan to lead the UN Commission of Inquiry into the murder of the former Lebanese premier, Rafic Hariri, on 14 February last year.

The government-controlled Syrian press has since yesterday been comparing the new head of the Commission – praising his objectivity – to his predecessor, a German, Detlev Mehlis, accused even by political authorities of having pre-conceived anti-Syrian views. According to newspapers, the first report of Brammertz, to be presented to the UN on 15 March, is sure to present another, very valid point of view, not least because of the total silence which has characterized his work, as opposed to his predecessor "who wanted to manipulate his legal mission to serve the Americans, abusing his prestigious responsibility". Mehlis was even challenged of having woven friendships with many people in Lebanon and elsewhere, going against the discreet nature of a judge's work.

The Syrian press is also flaunting the conviction that the Brammertz report will dismantle accusations against Syria put forward by Mehlis, indicating unidentified "fundamentalists" as being responsible for Hariri's murder. The Belgian judge has been promised a warm welcome by all Syrian leaders, including the president Bachar El Assad.

In reality, the visit of Brammertz was preceded by tiring negotiations, which he undertook in Lebanon with the Syrian legal advisor, Riad El Daoudi, and his assistant Ahmad Arnous, on the modalities of his movements during his Syrian visit and about the nature of his meetings with Syrian leaders.

Damascus insists there is an increasing likelihood that "fundamentalists" will be accused of being primarily guilty of Hariri's murder, and hence the innocence of four Lebanese officials, jailed for more than four months, will be recognized: Jamil El Saiid, Raymond Azar, Ali El Hajj and Moustafa Hemdane. The officials have asked to be released, committing themselves to remain in Lebanon.

In Beirut, meanwhile, during a government meeting yesterday, the Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora laid down the finishing touches for preparations for an international tribunal to delve into Hariri's murder. The Lebanese Telecommunications Minister, Marwan Hamadeh, just returned from the USA, said his government and the UN were completing the plan for an international tribunal.