Mehlis takes Hariri probe to Syria

DAMASCUS (Reuters) — Syria agreed on Monday with chief UN investigator Detlev Mehlis on the procedures for questioning Syrian witnesses in the probe into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
“An agreement has been reached on the procedures and arrangements for hearing Syrian witnesses,” a Syrian official said after a meeting between Mehlis and a Syrian foreign ministry legal adviser, Riad Daoudi.

“Mr Mehlis will leave Syria later today and return towards the end of next week,” the source told Reuters, without elaboration.

Mehlis, probing the February assassination of Hariri in Beirut, arrived in Syria earlier in the day, starting a sensitive phase of the investigation which some Lebanese media say could implicate some Syrians.

Damascus denies Lebanese allegations of Syrian links to the killing. It agreed to the visit by the German prosecutor after international accusations that it was not cooperating with the probe, which began in mid-June.

A Syrian source close to the talks in Damascus said Mehlis wanted to interview at least eight Syrian officials, including top officers, who were serving in Lebanon at the time of the murder, and other senior figures.

The source said the Syrian authorities might ask for judges from Saudi Arabia and Egypt to examine evidence that showed the interviews were necessary to the investigation, and might ask them to attend the questioning of witnesses in Syria.

Shrouded in secrecy

Mehlis’ movements in Damascus were shrouded in secrecy and conducted amid heavy security. But an official source said he held a long meeting with Daoudi.

Mehlis’s long-awaited visit to Syria followed an apparent breakthrough earlier this month in the investigation into the February 14 killing of Hariri and 20 others in an explosion in Beirut.

Lebanon charged four pro-Syrian generals with planning the assassination after Mehlis recommended their arrest.

Lebanese political sources say Mehlis has strong evidence against the four, including telephone records and statements from witnesses including one “super witness.”

They said they expected more arrests in Beirut soon in the widening probe into the financing and execution of the murder.

Lawyers for the four men have said their clients are innocent and said the investigation has not been completed. Mehlis has not yet revealed what evidence he has but is due to report his findings to the Security Council in late October.

Official sources in Beirut have said that while in Damascus Mehlis would try to arrange for his team to interview a number of Syrian security officials, including the top officers in Lebanon at the time of the attack — intelligence chief Rustom Ghazali and top aides Mohammad Khallouf and Jamae Jamae.

The four arrested generals had close links to Ghazali and his aides — as well as Lebanese President Emile Lahoud.

Many Lebanese blame Syria and its allies for the killing. Damascus has denied any involvement, but the assassination led to the pullout of Syrian troops from Lebanon under intense international and Lebanese pressure.

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