Syrians stage pro-Assad rally prior to release of UN’s Hariri report

The Associated Press and Haaretz Service Waving placards and pictures of their president, tens of thousands of Syrians Monday protested the pending UN report implicating him in former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. „Mr. Mehlis: we are not murderers,” read one banner, referring to Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor who wrote the report. Organized to show support for the beleaguered government of President Bashar Assad, the demonstration in central Damascus came a day before the U.N. Security Council is due to debate the report. The United States and Britain are calling for the council to take a firm stand on Syria. „With our soul and our blood, we redeem you, Bashar,” the crowd chanted in Sabe Bahrat Square. The people held up large posters of Bashar as well as his father, the late President Hafez Assad. „Wake up Arabs, your turn will come soon,” read one banner, in an attempt to draw pan-Arab solidarity. The protesters also shouted slogans against the United States, and unfurled banners with messages such as: „Get away from Syria” and „Syria will never be another Iraq.” Meanwhile, in New York, diplomats said the United States prefers not to take far-reaching steps against Damascus in the UN Security Council at this stage, despite strong American condemnations of Syria since Friday. The U.S., Britain and France are weighing their steps cautiously so as not to push Syria into a corner, the sources said. Tuesday’s council session is due to open with a briefing to its members by Detlev Mehlis, who headed the international investigation. The council members are then expected to question Mehlis, especially about the reliability of the witnesses and sources on whom he based his interim report. Mehlis’s responses to these questions could contain details about Syrian involvement that he prefered to delete from his interim report. The resolution that council members are expected to vote on after the report is summed up is unlikely to call for sanctions against Damascus, the sources said. „Behind closed doors, there is talk of sanctions,” one Western diplomat told Haaretz, „but this is merely a reminder to Syria that such an option exists.” Although the U.S., Britain and France have been working on a draft resolution since Friday, it was only to be given to council members on Monday. But the resolution is expected to urge Syria to cooperate fully with the international investigators, who have received an extension until December 15 to complete their report. „The fact that the council is awaiting an additional and final report from Mehlis will also prevent the inclusion of operative punitive measures, such as sanctions, in the current resolution,” a senior UN source explained. BPI-info