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Last Updated: Friday, 21 October 2005, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Syria faces crisis over Hariri report
By Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East editor

Two Lebanese men walk past a poster of Rafik Hariri
Lebanon and Syria deny the report's claims
It is not surprising that the Syrian government has dismissed the contents of the UN report into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

It contains a series of allegations against Syria's ruling Assad family and its closest associates that push it further into the worst crisis it has faced since Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current President, seized power in 1967.

The conclusion to paragraph 123 is devastating.

It says that "there is probable cause to believe" that the decision to assassinate Rafik Hariri could not have been taken without the approval of "top-ranked" Syrian security officials.

It could not have been organised "without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services", the report adds.

Beirut link?

The Lebanese President, Emile Lahoud, a firm ally of Syria and political enemy of Mr Hariri, is also drawn in to the report.

The brother of one of the key figures in the investigation, Sheikh Ahmed Abdel-Al, called President Lahoud's mobile phone minutes before the explosion that killed Mr Hariri, the report says.

President Lahoud has been isolated since Syria was forced to pull its troops out of Lebanon in April this year.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Syria was the main power in Lebanon until its withdrawal in April

He has said that he is determined to see out his full term, but will now face more calls for his resignation.

General Mustapha Hamdan, the commander of Lebanon's presidential guard and President Lahoud's closest security advisor, is also named by a witness.

Four months before the assassination, he accused Mr Hariri of being pro-Israeli and allegedly told the witness: "We are going to send him on a trip; bye bye Hariri."

The German investigator, Detlev Mehlis, is careful to say that the investigation needs much more work, and that the people named in his report must be presumed innocent until proved guilty.

But he describes a wide-ranging conspiracy, which draws in top Syrian and Lebanese officials.

Paragraph 96 features the testimony of a witness, who claimed to have worked for Syrian intelligence, describing a series of alleged meetings in Damascus between unnamed Lebanese and Syrian security officials to plan the assassination.

Some of the meetings were held at the presidential palace.

Many motives

A copy of the report obtained by the BBC shows deletions made while the final draft was being prepared.

The names deleted from paragraph 96 include that of President Bashar al-Assad's brother Maher, and of Asef Shawkat, the head of Syrian military intelligence, who is married to President Assad's sister.

A burning car in the wreckage of the bomb attack that killed Rafik Hariri
Lebanon was shocked by Hariri's death

If what that witness says is true, the conspiracy goes to the heart of President Assad's court.

The report criticises Syria for not co-operating properly with the UN investigation.

In effect, it accuses Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara of lying, saying that a letter from him to the investigators contained "false information".

The report says Rafik Hariri was killed for political reasons - because he was seen as an enemy of Syria and its allies in Lebanon.

But Mr Mehlis says there could have been other motives among the "sophisticated group" that organised his assassination, including fraud, corruption and money-laundering.

Copies of the report have been sent to all the members of the UN Security Council, which will discuss the findings next week.

Syria was already under intense pressure from the US. That pressure is certain to become more intense, and is likely to come first through the Security Council.

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