Sunday, March 27, 2005

UN Report accuses Syria of Hariri's death

From the Christian Science Monitor:

A UN team investigating the Feb. 14 bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri released a highly critical report of Syria on Thursday accusing Syria of "fostering the lawless climate and political tensions surrounding Hariri's death," reports Knight Ridder News Services.

The report stopped short of blaming Syria for the assassination, but it laid the blame at its doorstep, reports the New York Times.

While [the UN report] said it could not assign direct blame for the killing, the mission's 19-page report said the government of Syria 'bears primary responsibility for the political tension that preceded the assassination.' It said Syria's interference in Lebanon was 'heavy-handed and inflexible' which, combined with inept Lebanese security, was responsible for 'political polarization' that 'provided the backdrop' for the assassination.

Deputy Irish Police Commissioner Peter FitzGerald, head of the UN fact-finding team, wrote that "There was a serious failure on the part of the Lebanese security apparatus to predict and prevent the assassination," reports Knight Ridder. Mr. FitzGerald and his team spent three weeks in Lebanon investigating Mr. Hariri's killing.

Critical to finding out who killed Hariri is cooperation from the pro-Syrian leaders of Lebanon's security apparatus. According to the Washington Post, FitzGerald made clear in his report that as long as they remain in power that is not likely to happen.

Following the attack, Lebanese authorities failed to properly secure the site and cleared it of key evidence, including the six vehicles in Hariri's convoy, according to the report. The police failed to shut down a broken water main that flooded the crime scene, washing away important evidence. 'Important evidence was either removed or destroyed without record,' FitzGerald said.

The report also charges that Lebanese investigators neglected to trace a 'suspect' white pickup truck that slowed down at the crime scene in the minutes before the explosion. Nor did they interview potential witnesses, a failure that amounted to 'gross negligence.'

FitzGerald said that a 'single individual or small terrorist group' lacked the capacity to carry out such an attack, which required 'considerable finance, military precision in its execution, [and] substantial logistical support.'

The report also charged that Syrian President Bashar Assad threatened Hariri with "physical harm" last summer if Hariri challenged Mr. Assad's dominance over Lebanese political life, says the Post.

Assad said that 'Lahoud should be viewed as his personal representative' in Lebanon and that 'opposing him is tantamount to opposing Assad himself,' the report states. Assad then warned that he 'would rather break Lebanon over the heads of' Hariri and influential Druze political leader Walid Jumblatt 'than see his word in Lebanon broken.'

The United States and France were expected to introduce a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for an international inquiry, reports Reuters.

The report's recommendations echoed demands that anti-Syrian opposition leaders and demonstrators made and have continued to make following the assassination.In response to the UN report, Syrian UN ambassador Fayssal Mekdad denied that his country's influence had created tension and said "the true culprit was a Security Council resolution last year demanding Syria's departure," reports Agence France Presse.

Mr. Mekdad also expressed doubt about a power struggle between Hariri and Assad, reports AFP.

'I wish Mr Fitzgerald had not gone into such allegations because they could never be substantiated since Mr Hariri is not there anymore,' the ambassador said.

Meanwhile, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, meeting in Paris on Thursday with French President Jacques Chirac says Syria will announce "within a week" its timetable for the withdrawal of the remainder of its forces from Lebanon, reports the BBC.

Mass demonstrations forced the resignation of the Lebanese Cabinet last month and pressured Syria into pulling back its 15,000 troops and intelligence agents into eastern Lebanon.