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French Version

Lebanon - UN resolutions ... and Syria's 'cooperation'

The televised interview with former Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam embarrassed the Syrian regime, its members and symbols. It has also given a much-needed boost to the UN probe into former Premier Rafik Hariri's killing.

It also reopened the files for investigations with top Syrian officials after political circles close to Syria said that the investigations file was closed when the five Syrian officers agreed to appear before the investigating committee in Vienna.

That location was chosen by Syria and after Damascus cooperated with the committee in a domineering way imposing its conditions. Proof of that behavior was when it (Damascus) did not allow its officers to stay longer.

Despite Syria's cooperation with the committee according to its conditions, the international community, and through UN Security Council Resolution 1644 passed in mid-December 2005, was keen on being lenient with Syria, giving it a grace period and calling on it to cooperate with the investigating committee. Between UNSC Resolutions 1636 and 1644, Syria held the former chief of the international investigating committee Magistrate Detlev Mehlis responsible for "not cooperating with Syria," politicizing the file of the assassination Hariri, and working under the influence of the parliamentary majority.

Some figures close to this majority gave Mehlis information that appeared to be inaccurate. To confirm that, Damascus resorted to making public Houssam Houssam, the masked witness, who held a press conference in Damascus and refuted all his previous statements. He said that there were some who tried to "employ" him in the case and "teach" him the statement he should give.

According to political sources close to Syria, "it (Syria) tried to discredit Mehlis' report that basically relied on the masked witness; knowing that recently, Houssam Houssam appeared in photographs taken in the crime scene of George Hawi's assassination. He was caught in a suspicious position, and the Syrians, protective of Houssam, did not give any "masked explanation" for his being there.

The political campaign was accompanied by leaks about Syrian-U.S. deals and the return of Syria's domination again over Lebanon following the launch of Katyusha rockets from Lebanon to northern Israel.

Syria tried to benefit from the six-month grace period it was given, but the international community asserted in UNSC Resolution 1644 Syria's cooperation with the investigating committee "without conditions." That was done after the location to question the Syrian officials was changed from Monteverde to Vienna, and after amendments were made to the list of Syrian officials and removing the names of Maher Assad and Assef Shawkat, and after UN Secretary General Kofi Annan approved of Mehlis rejecting the extension of his term after relations became tense between him and the Syrians.

Head of the Syrian delegation to the UN Faisal al-Daoudi asserted that Syria's decision is to cooperate with the investigating committee. He added "there was nothing that the committee asked us to do that we did not fulfill."

Will Syria face the international community by refusing to cooperate with the investigating committee and refuse the committee's request to take statements from Assad, Sharaa and other Syrian officials? Or will it cooperate in its own way?

Sources say that Syria could cooperate in its own way by sending Sharaa and the Syrian officials including Maher Assad and Shawkat to Vienna as a preliminary step hoping that would delay the committee in listening to Assad.

But well-informed sources assert that following the latest developments there is no Syrian-U.S. deal being made in the investigation of Hariri's assassination.

Some people fear that Syria's refusal to cooperate could lead the UNSC to pass a resolution to impose sanctions on Syria that could affect the regime. In this context, a political observer says that Khaddam's interview was the relieving bullet for the Syrian regime and accused it of being adamant and not wanting to change. The observer also considered that any reform is impossible if the regime remains captive by a group of security officers and accused the regime of terrorism and corruption.

Khaddam's televised interview turned him into a "king witness" in the international investigation. Will Khaddam reveal all his cards, files, and expose everything? Or will he stop at what he said? Will the former Syrian Army chief of staff Major General Hikmat al-Chehabi also speak about everything in a televised interview after knowing the Syrian reactions to Khaddam?

The ball is now in the court of the Syrian regime. But the question is how will it face and respond to the accusations and how will it come out of this embarrassing position it got itself in?

Beirut,01 08 2006
Philip Abi Akl
The Daily Star
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