New UN report says Syria still meddling in Lebanese affairs

The Syrian army withdrew from Lebanon in the wake of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, but Syria’s indirect military intervention and direct intelligence intervention in Lebanon continues, including arms shipments to various militias, according to an unpublished report obtained by Haaretz. The aim of the report by UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, which is to be submitted this week to the UN Secretariat and the Security Council, is to determine whether Syria complied with UN Resolution 1559, calling for its withdrawal from Lebanon. The findings of the Roed-Larsen report, together with the Mehlis Commission interim report on the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, increase the chances that the Security Council will impose sanctions on Syria. The Mehlis report points an accusing finger at Syria. Without making a direct accusation of murder, it emphasizes Syria’s responsibility and attempts by Syrian figures to lie and squirm their way out of the investigation into the murder.

Roed-Larsen’s report will place much more pressure on Syria than the Mehlis report because it states that Damascus did not genuinely implement Resolution 1559, preferring instead to maintain its indirect military control of Lebanon through its agents in the Lebanese presidential palace, the army and intelligence organizations. Official sources say Syrian intelligence was involved in 14 assassinations and assassination attempts in Lebanon in the past year, including that of Hariri. Part of Syria’s indirect control in Lebanon is achieved through arms shipments to Hezbollah and armed Palestinian militias, most of which end up in the refugee camps. In addition, Lebanon is home to a few dozen members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who have trained Hezbollah members in launching drones. On two occasions, the drones made short flights into the Galilee. It appears unlikely that the Security Council will consider the two reports sufficiently damning to impose sanctions on Syria. Both reports prepare the ground for future sanctions, however, and contain an indirect recommendation to Syrian President Bashar Assad that he cooperate with the United Nations. Lebanon arrests man in Hariri probe Lebanese authorities arrested on Saturday a man said to have called President Emile Lahoud shortly before the murder of the country’s former prime minister, a security source said on Saturday. Security forces detained Mahmoud Abdel-Al early on Saturday based on a warrant issued by Lebanon’s Prosecutor General Saeed Meerza, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The UN report said Abdel-Al „made a call minutes before the blast” to Lahoud’s mobile phone. Lahoud’s spokesman has strongly denied that the president had been in contact with Abdel-Al. The UN report also cited Abdel-Al’s brother, Ahmad Abdel-Al, a member of the pro-Syrian Islamic militant Ahbash group, as a key figure in the killing plot. Syria rejects report Syria on Saturday rejected the interim findings of the Mehlis report, which it said was „based on prejudices and reaches conclusions that bring Syria into the circle of blame, spreading slander without any proof.” The statement was released at a press conference called by Ahmed Arnus, an aide to Foreign Minister Farouk Shara, and the ministry’s legal counsel, Dr. Riyad Daudi. The report cites Shara and his deputy, Walid Mualem, as having given testimony defined as problematic to the Mehlis commission. The Lebanese government welcomed the report on Saturday, calling it „credible and professional.” Saad Hariri, Rafik Hariri’s son, called on Saturday for those involved in the murder to be put on trial. However, „we are not looking for revenge, only justice,” he said from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. „A number of countries want to take advantage of the report for their own ends,” a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry said. Iran, Syria’s ally, announced it would wait for the final report of the Mehlis Commission before expressing an opinion. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu Gheit said the report had to be studied closely. If the UN Security Council, scheduled to meet in two days, does not impose sanctions on Syria at the present time, a harsh censure will probably be forthcoming. The foreign ministers of Security Council members are continuing their discussions of the report. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw severely criticized Syria and its actions in Lebanon. Calling the report very worrisome, Straw said it was additional proof that the Syrian elite saw Lebanon as another one of their provinces. President George W. Bush also slammed Syria, saying the report „strongly suggests that the politically motivated assassination could not have taken place without Syrian involvement.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the international community would have to settle accounts with Syria. Mehlis will appear before the UN Security Council on Tuesday to report on his personal impression. In addition to imposing sanctions on Syria, the Security Council could also warn Syria to cooperate more fully with the investigation from now on. BPI-info