2 Syrian officials give more evidence to Hariri probe

VIENNA (AFP) — Two Syrian intelligence officers began giving evidence in Vienna again Monday to the UN commission investigating the murder 11 months ago of Lebanese former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, a Syrian diplomat said.
They are Syria’s former head of intelligence in Lebanon, Rustom Ghazale, and his deputy, retired colonel Samih Kashaami, both of whom were heard by the commission in December. “I think it has begun,” Syria’s ambassador in Austria, Safwan Ghanem, told AFP, adding he did not expect the hearings to last beyond Monday.

The precise duration of the interviews, he said, lay “in the hands of the commission.”

The ambassador said two witnesses would be questioned Monday. Al Arabiya television reported Monday that there would be four.

The December hearings involved three other Syrians: Abdelkarim Abbas, head of intelligence in Palestine, Zaher Yussef, head of communications and Jameh Jameh, another of Ghazale’s deputies.

The commission, led since last week by Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, also wants to speak to Syrian President Bashar Assad and Foreign Minister Farouq Sharaa.

On Saturday, a senior US diplomat warned that Syria risked further UN Security Council action unless it stepped up cooperation with the investigation, remarks that drew fury in Damascus.

“Syria must cease obstructing the investigation into the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and must cooperate unconditionally” with the UN probe, said David Welch, the US pointman for the Middle East.

“The United States calls upon the Syrian regime to respond positively to the requests… If Syrian obstruction continues we will not hesitate to refer this matter back to the Security Council.”

Last month, the UN Security Council passed a resolution endorsing a six-month extension of the murder probe and renewing its call for Syria’s full cooperation with the investigation.

“The declarations of Mr Welch are a new attempt aimed at increasing the morale of anti-Syrian forces who are opposed to the stability of Lebanon,” said a Syrian official, quoted by the state news agency Sana.

“The objective of such declarations is to increase the pressure on Syria which is calling for stability and global peace.”

Welch’s call echoed similar comments by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier last week, who said Washington intends “to refer this matter back to the Security Council if Syrian obstruction continues.”

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