01/17/2006, 00.00
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Assad may meet UN Commission

by Jihad Issa

 The rumour spread throughout Damascus after the interrogation of two men who were secret service heads during the occupation of Lebanon; this may be the start of a new attitude of collaboration.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – Syria's president, Bashar al Assad, could accept to meet the UN Commission inquiring into the murder of the ex Lebanese premier, Rafic Hariri, as long as Syrian sovereignty is safeguarded. This is the rumour spreading through Damascus, which is now waking up to the necessity of collaborating with the UN Commission. The realization has dawned more and more with the return of two former heads of the secret services in Lebanon during the Syrian occupation of the country of the cedars, General Roustom Ghazali and Colonel Samih El Kaschaami. They were interrogated yesterday, Monday, in Vienna for the second time.

Even if no information has been given about a date for the meeting and Syrian diplomatic sources quoted by a Lebanese daily, L'Orient le Jour, talked about "a matter of pure formality", the interrogation is being viewed together with the latest statements of the former president Khaddam, who accused the Syrian regime of being responsible for the "crime of the century".

A well-informed news source which is very close to the Assad regime told the AsiaNews correspondent that the "shift in the Syrian position with regard to the UN Commission" followed the appointment of the Belgian judge Serge Brammerts as head of the Commission, after Detlev Mehlis, the German judge, stepped down. Mehlis had been accused by Syrians of "manipulating the situation". At first, the government ruled out the possibility of interrogation.

On the diplomatic front, pressure on Syria came from Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Foreign Affairs Minister in Riyad, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in an interview with today's Financial Times revealed that he had submitted a plan to Lebanon  and Syria to "diffuse tension" between the two countries and was waiting for a response.

According to the Syrian source, "Syria's new strategic line of collaboration with the UN Commission of Inquiry is based on the principle of cooperation, on condition that the sovereignty and peace of Syria be spared." The aim is to "seek a fitting and just way to sign a protocol of reciprocal respect with the Syrian Commission, set up for this purpose, and renewed on Tuesday with the appointment of the former Justice Minister, Nabil Khatib". In Damascus, importance is being attached to the conduct of the UN Commission, which accepted to change the headquarters of the inquiry, accepting Vienna after the Syrian refusal of the initially proposed Beirut. In Syria, there is also talk of the "removal" of Mehlis, an alleged UN decision which was greeted positively.

Today's Syrian press once again directed an appeal to "free citizens" to contribute to covering costs of Syria's collaboration with the UN. A fund called "Cash in solidarity for the dignity of your country" has been set up, and many Syrian émigrés have started to contribute to support the Syrian currency after its decline owing to the economic crisis which has afflicted the country for many months now.

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See also
Mehlis leaves, UN probe into Assad's role continues
In Beirut expectations are Mehlis commission's mandate will be extended
Ahmadinejad arrives in Damascus, Brammertz in Beirut
Possible link between Hariri murder and 14 other attacks, says Brammertz
Charges against Damascus raise tensions in Beirut


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