- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2005

NEW YORK — The U.N. Security Council yesterday extended by six months the inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and asked the international team to expand its investigation to the killings of a half-dozen Lebanese opponents of Syrian occupation.

The resolution, passed unanimously, also demanded that Damascus respond “unambiguously and immediately” to all requests by the U.N. investigators and that it implement “without delay any future request of the commission.”

The text noted that Syria has “not yet provided the commission with the full and unconditional cooperation demanded in [previous] resolutions.”

After meeting strong resistance from permanent council members Russia and China, the resolution dropped language threatening sanctions or unspecified “further measures” to compel Damascus to comply, although U.S. officials say they are satisfied with the language in previous Chapter 7 resolutions.

Passages criticizing Syria’s lack of cooperation — crafted by co-sponsors France, Britain and the United States — were deleted after Russia and outgoing council member Algeria objected in late afternoon discussions.

“The United States believes it sends a strong signal to Syria that it demands full and unconditional compliance with the Mehlis commission. It’s clear they have not yet provided that cooperation,” said U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton moments before the vote. He expressed satisfaction that this was the third council resolution on Syria to receive the support of all 15 members.

Russian Ambassador Andrey Denisov noted after the vote that his delegation proposed amendments “to give the text a more balanced nature” and vowed to continue opposing “unwarranted pressure on Damascus” and negative interpretations of its cooperation with the investigators.

Mr. Hariri was killed Feb. 14 in a car bombing that claimed 22 others and injured scores. The United Nations initiated an international investigation, led by Detlev Mehlis, to find the perpetrators.

In an Oct. 19 report, Mr. Mehlis outlined a conspiracy to kill Mr. Hariri that ranged from senior Lebanese intelligence officials to members of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s inner circle.

In that report and the second, released Monday, Mr. Mehlis noted that Syrian authorities had intimidated a witness and obstructed efforts to interview suspects.

He also mentioned the discovery a new witness and cross-checked evidence that more firmly ties Damascus to the assassination.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora earlier this week requested the United Nations’ help in investigating the assassination of a half-dozen prominent Lebanese who have criticized Syria’s infiltration into the country.

The new U.N. resolution authorizes investigators to work with Lebanese authorities to solve those killings, including the death on Monday of lawmaker and journalist Gibran Tueni.

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