01/04/2006, 00.00
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Pressures on Syria mounting to accept UN demands

A top Saudi official is expected in Damascus following the Mubarak-Abdallah meeting. French President Chirac calls on Syria "to be more cooperative". Khaddam's next TV appearance is causing tensions. Syrian Prime Minister uses threatening tone against Jumblatt.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – Tensions are running high today in Damascus as expectations grow over what former Syrian Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam might say in his second interview, this time on the al-Jazeera network, and what might come of the meeting between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi King Abdallah.

A top Saudi official, possibly former Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Bandar bin Sultan is in fact scheduled to visit the Syrian capital to present the results of the Saudi-Egyptian summit. The Saudi mission that was decided yesterday is expected to urge Syria to cooperate with the UN commission probe into the Hariri assassination.

For his part, Khaddam is expected to repeat his accusations against the Assad regime and reveal some details into the Hariri affair when he speaks on al-Jazeera.

On the streets, opinions vary. For some, it is necessary to let the commission interview President Assad, his Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa and other officials like Intelligence Chief General Asaf Shawkat, who is married to Assad's sister Bouchra—in Mehlis' first report, she was named as an accomplice in the Hariri assassination. Others are steadfastly opposed to the UN request; among them those who are backing the Assad clan out of necessity and who see UN demands "as an international tool to undermine the Baathist regime's stability". Increasingly, many in Syria, like the promoters of the Declaration of Damascus, are calling for the regime's overthrow.

In a public statement, Ambassador Suleiman Awad, spokesman for Egypt's Presidency, announced that both Egypt and Saudi Arabia agreed that intra-Arab ties must be strengthened and that the leaders of both countries will try to persuade the Syrian president to cooperate with the UN commission because "finding the truth in the Hariri assassination responds to the wishes of the international community".

Awad insisted on the need to respect the historical ties between Lebanon and Syria, calling attention to "the obligations all Arabs are under to defend and protect the Lebanese population from any danger or threat and guarantee Syria protection should it fully cooperate with the UN commission.

Meanwhile, President Mubarak is in France to discuss recent developments in the Mideast with his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, after the government in Damascus rejected the UN demand to interview President Assad.

In meeting the press Chirac said that "Syria should be more cooperative with the international commission", adding that "anything that destabilises Lebanon ends up turning against Syria" and that "the situation is serious and requires close attention".

Syrian media instead continue to attack Khaddam whilst stressing the willingness of the former head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon Rusum Ghazale to "quit for the good of the country". They have also put to rest rumours that Ghazale had committed suicide as a result of Khaddam's charges.

Syrian Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Otari told the al-Arabiya TV network—which broadcast Khaddam's interview last Friday—that the former VP "was responsible for the worsening relations between Lebanon and Syria in the last 30 years since he was in charge of Lebanese affairs under both Hafez al-Assad and, until recently, his son Bashar".

Al-Otari stressed that relations between the two countries must be improved. In a threatening tone, he laid blame for recent problems on certain Lebanese leaders such as Walid Jumblatt, "who is trying to destroy rather build".

In Beirut, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is expected to come on an official visit in the near future.

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See also
Qualified support for Assad from Saudi Arabia and Egypt
In Vienna Mehlis ready to interrogate Syrians involved in the Hariri assassination
Syria to reject UN request to interview Assad
Damascus on the jitters waiting for the UN's verdict
Time is short before situation in Lebanon gets worse, says Moussa


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