Syrian President Orders Probe Into Hariri Killing

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, October 30, 2005

DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 29 -- President Bashar Assad issued an order Saturday for a government committee to investigate any Syrian involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in a car bombing in the Lebanese capital on Feb. 14, the Syrian news agency reported.

The move was the latest effort by the Syrian government to appear conciliatory before a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, expected to take place Monday. A resolution, backed by the United States, Britain and France, would threaten sanctions unless Syria fully cooperates with the U.N. investigation into the car bombing, which killed 22 others beside Hariri.

A Syrian investigation was among the recommendations issued last week by Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor heading the U.N. inquiry.

The Syrian leadership was said to be caught off guard by the scope of the report, which concludes that senior officials here and in Lebanon almost certainly had a hand in Hariri's assassination. They expected the report to acknowledge what they thought was their cooperation in the investigation and have complained that they have almost no channels of communication with the United States to try to resolve the crisis.

"They don't want to talk to us, so what can we do?" one senior official said.

Assad ordered the establishment of a judicial committee "to question Syrian civilians and military personnel on all matters relating to the mission of the U.N. investigation commission," the official SANA news agency reported. The decree said the Syrian committee would cooperate with Lebanese investigators and Mehlis's inquiry, which is now set to conclude by Dec. 15.

Syria has denied any role in the assassination, but the order suggested that the government was acknowledging at least the possibility of Syrian involvement.

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