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French Version

Syria has given 'full access' to UN team, says minister

Syria vowed on Tuesday to cooperate fully with the UN investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri after the Security Council passed a resolution demanding Damascus cooperate within a six-week deadline or face the consequences.

Syrian officials have repeatedly maintained they have been cooperating with the UN probe, and strongly criticized the latest resolution as being "very negative toward Syria."

"Syria wants to cooperate because Syria wants to know the truth and wants to know who killed Hariri," Syrian Expatriates Minister Bouthaina Shaaban told CNN on Tuesday.

She added Syria had given "full access" to the UN team led by Detlev Mehlis, and would continue to do so.

"We are the people who are suffering as a consequence of this terrorist act and we are certainly most interested in finding out who the perpetrators are, and we will certainly cooperate until these perpetrators are found," she said, echoing Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, who told the Security Council Monday that Syria had divulged "the whole truth" to investigators.

Resolution 1636, passed unanimously by the Security Council on Monday, demands that Syria detain suspects and urges a travel ban and a freeze of assets on all individuals designated as suspects in the slaying of Hariri.

A passage threatening sanctions was withdrawn to ensure the unanimous vote, but the text does say that the council "if necessary, could consider further action," but did not spell out what that action could be.

Russia, a close Syrian ally since the cold war, said it had spared Damascus the threat of sanctions and of being linked, without proof, to terrorism.

A statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said: "Thanks to the efforts of the Russian side and other delegations, politicized stances that had nothing to do with the investigation of Hariri's death were withdrawn."

It also said that the resolution opened the way for "broad and effective dialogue on the Syrian side with international investigators."

Israel welcomed the resolution, with a Foreign Ministry spokesperson saying: "We are happy to see that the rules of the game and the kind of action we were accustomed to for many years in Lebanon is no longer acceptable and subject to condemnation from the international community."

Nonetheless, Sharaa held his ground and slammed the resolution as being "unjust" and dismissed its adoption as "illogical," arguing that implicating Syrian officials in Hariri's killing was akin to implicating the U.S., Spanish and British governments in the September 11, 2001; March 3, 2003; or July 7, 2005 bombings.

"This investigation is being dealt with as in the medieval times, where the innocent get prosecuted before being convicted," said Sharaa." "The decision is targeting Syria and what it stands for."

Syria's state media is bracing the public for "a prolonged and difficult stand-off" with the international community.

According to Fayez Sayegh, editor of the state-run Al-Thawra daily, "it is not the first time that Syria is subjected to enormous pressures, even if the ones today are the most dangerous. It has overcome them in the past and will overcome attempts to put it on its knees."

In response, an outlawed Syrian opposition alliance called for regime officials to answer for their actions and not let the Syrian people pay the price in "a prolonged standoff."

"The regime's misguided, adventurist actions have put the country in a delicate position, which risks having disastrous consequences for the Syrian people," said the alliance of Kurdish and secular parties in a statement.

"Any Syrian of whatever rank must pay the price for his actions if he emerges guilty in light of the findings of an international inquiry or the verdict of an international or regional tribunal," it added.

The declaration was later endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood, considered Syria's most influential opposition group despite being outlawed since 1980.

Meanwhile, 2,000 young Syrians demonstrated in Damascus Tuesday against "unjust" U.S. pressure at the UN targeting Syria over Hariri's murder.

In a demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy, thousands of protestors denounced "American pressures and threats aimed at Syria."

"We have nothing to hide," proclaimed one huge banner, as demonstrators waved Syrian flags and chanted "America, America, the night will not endure," and "To attack the ugly American is true solidarity."

Police surrounded the U.S. mission and ordered back a dozen young Syrians who attempted to approach the embassy.

The Syrian Civil Society for Public Relations had called for the demonstration, urging "all those who reject unjust pressure and threats against Syria" to participate.

Protestors have erected a tent near the mission and laid out mattresses for what they said would be a "permanent" sit-in.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Walid Moallem was in Muscat on Tuesday as part of a Gulf tour to rally support for the besieged regime.

Moallem left Muscat after delivering a verbal message from Syrian President Assad to Sultan Qaboos during a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Fahd bin Mahmoud al-Saeed, according to the state news agency ONA.

He has already traveled to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, a staunch Damascus ally, said in a statement he hoped the resolution would uncover the "whole truth" and provide "solid evidence that points to the planners, executors and those who helped carry out the crime."

Lahoud has maintained that Syria and its Lebanese allies are not linked to the murder and that a thorough investigation will reveal their innocence.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora stressed the importance of maintaining "good relations" with Syria, while advising Damascus "to cooperate fully" with the UN probe.

"Syria should strive to become part of the solution and not part of the problem," he said, repeating the words of Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa. Siniora and Moussa spoke on the phone on Monday night.

Contrary to earlier media reports, the League denied that Syria has requested it meet over the current developments.

The slain Hariri's son, Beirut MP Saad Hariri, called the passing of Resolution 1636 "an exceptional event" in United Nations history.

"The move reflects more than just the international body's interest in battling terrorism, it also shows what an important position Lebanon holds with the UN," he said.

Beirut,11 01 2005
The Daily Star
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