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International Pressure Builds on Syria Over Hariri Case, Lebanon Role

Hariri, a popular political leader opposed to Syrian involvement in Lebanon, was killed by a bomb on Feb. 14. A U.N. investigation, headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, accused the Syrian government of failing to cooperate in the inquiry and alleged former Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa lied in a letter to the investigating commission.

Although the report, released last week, did not explicitly blame Syrian President Bashar Assad or his inner circle, the names of Assad’s brother and brother-in-law as well as other top Syrians were edited out of the final report.

If adopted, the new Security Council resolution would require Syria to detain anyone the U.N. investigators consider a suspect and allow the individual to be questioned outside the country or without Syrian officials present. It would also immediately freeze the assets and impose a travel ban on anyone identified as a suspect by the commission.

The council is set to meet Oct. 31 on the matter, and U.S. Ambassador John Bolton hopes to have agreement on a resolution by then. But reaction to the draft has been less than positive and left final adoption in doubt.

Russia, a strong ally of Syria who has announced plans to sell advanced missile systems to Damascus despite American opposition, said it would stand in the way of any effort to impose economic sanctions.

“Russia will do everything necessary to stop attempts to introduce sanctions against Syria,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kalmynin told Interfax news agency and other Russian media during a trip to Israel.

Russia could veto the British, American and French proposal, but no official had commented on whether Moscow would go that far.

Kalmynin did express concern about the resolution’s wording which includes language that says the Security Council would consider further measures, like economic sanctions, to ensure compliance.

Syria’s ambassador in New York expressed frustration over the proposed resolution, saying his country had done nothing to obstruct the investigation into Hariri’s murder.

Fayssal Mekdad told the New York Times that accusations against the Damascus government were “a great injustice to Syria,” which he said was the “prime victim of the crime” and that Syria has always demonstrated a willingness to “cooperate faithfully and sincerely” with the commission. He said Syria would continue to provide the commission with any information it requested.

Mekdad quoted President Bashar al-Assad as saying: “Syria is innocent of this crime. Syria is ready and willing to put to trial any Syrian conclusively implicated in that crime.”

Meanwhile in Lebanon, investigators continued to round up suspects in the Feb. 14 attack. Lebanon had charged two men with a role in the killing of Hariri, judicial sources said Wednesday, less than a week after they were named in a U.N. probe into the murder.

The U.N. report cited both Ahmad Abdel-Al — a member of a pro-Syrian Islamic militant group — and his brother Mahmoud Abdel-Al, for their suspected involvement. The detentions bring the number of those arrested in the Lebanese probe to 11.

The political maneuvering ahead of next week’s Security Council comes as the United Nations reported on the continued flow of weapons and militants across the Syrian border with Lebanon.

U.S. Secretary-General Kofi Annan delivered a new report to the Security Council that found that arms are still flowing across the border to Palestinian groups and others in Lebanon, despite renewed efforts by the Beirut government to crack down.

His new report to the Security Council, prepared by envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, also found that the Beirut government had detained a number of infiltrators “of Palestinian origin who carried Syrian identification documents.”

Annan added that the Syrian government, which had no immediate reaction to the latest allegations, had told him the border had not been sealed.

“The government of Syria has informed me that the smuggling of arms and people across the Syrian-Lebanese border does indeed take place, albeit in both directions,” Annan said.

The report was prepared as a part of Security Council resolution 1559, adopted in September, that called for Syria to withdraw all its troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon and the disarmament of militias.

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