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State Dept. Dismisses Syria Offer

In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac warned Syria it could face sanctions if it refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Ereli called Assad's speech in Damascus in which he offered limited cooperation "appalling" and "outrageous." He accused Assad of threatening Lebanon even after the U.N. Security Council demanded Syria stop interfering in Lebanon's affairs.


Syrian President Bashar Assad greets the audience at the Damascus University auditorium, where he delievered a political speech outlining all regional issues and the pressures facing Syria Thursday Nov. 10, 2005. Assad stressed that his country is
Syrian President Bashar Assad greets the audience at the Damascus University auditorium, where he delievered a political speech outlining all regional issues and the pressures facing Syria Thursday Nov. 10, 2005. Assad stressed that his country is "innocent" denying any involvement in Rafiq Hariri's murder, and pledged to cooperate with the investigation committee. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi). (Bassem Tellawi - AP)

"The regime of President al-Assad just doesn't get it and doesn't understand where the rest of the international community is on this very important issue," Ereli said.

On another matter, the White House on Thursday demanded that Syria release pro-democracy activist Kamal Labwani and stop harassing those who are trying to bring democratic reforms to the Middle Eastern nation.

Human rights groups said Labwani, a physician and founder of the Democratic Liberal Gathering, was arrested Tuesday night upon his arrival at Damascus airport. Labwani had just returned from the United States, where he met with the president's deputy national security adviser, J.D. Crouch, at the White House.

Presidential press secretary Scott McClellan issued a statement that said the White House is deeply disturbed by reports of Labwani's arrest.

"We stress that the United States stands with the Syrian people in their desire for freedom and democracy," the statement said. "The Syrian government must cease its harassment of Syrians peacefully seeking to bring democratic reform to their country."

The statement said Bush also calls on Syria to release all political prisoners and specifically named Arif Dalilah, Riad Seif, Mamun al-Homsi, Walid al Bunni, Habib Issa, and Fawaz Tello.

Labwani, 49, already was a political prisoner. He was arrested in 2001 along with nine other activists during a government crackdown on so-called political "salons" _ gatherings in private homes during which Syrian intellectuals discussed democratic reforms.

In 2002, he was sentenced to three years in prison on charges that include inciting rebellion, spreading false information and weakening national unity. His sentence included time already spent in prison and he was released in September 2004.

Assad last week pardoned 190 political prisoners. Human rights activists say more than 2,500 political prisoners still are detained in Syria.

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On the Net:

State Department: http://www.state.gov

White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov


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© 2005 The Associated Press