- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

From combined dispatches

BEIRUT — Detlev Mehlis, the outgoing head of a U.N. investigation into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, has directly blamed “Syrian authorities” for the first time.

Asked by the London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat if he was firmly convinced that Syria was behind Hariri’s killing, Mr. Mehlis replied, “Yes.”

Asked whether he was directly accusing the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Mr. Mehlis said, “Let’s say the Syrian authorities.” He declined to elaborate.

Syria has denied involvement.

Mr. Mehlis also said he saw a link between last week’s assassination of anti-Syrian journalist and lawmaker Gibran Tueni and a string of bombings that has rocked Lebanon since Mr. Hariri’s assassination in February.

In a new report last week, Mr. Mehlis said fresh evidence had strengthened his belief that the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services had a hand in the Feb. 14 car bombing that killed Mr. Hariri and 20 others in Beirut. The report said there were 19 suspects so far, including six high-ranking Syrian officials.

Mr. Hariri’s assassination set off anti-Syrian street protests in Lebanon and intense international pressure that forced Damascus to withdraw its troops from Lebanon a few months later, ending nearly three decades of military domination.

The German investigator said Syria had stalled the probe, but that cooperation had improved this month.

Mr. Mehlis was not available for comment on the interview.

The 15-member Security Council decided Thursday to extend the mandate of the inquiry for another six months, but Mr. Mehlis himself will return to Berlin as soon as a replacement is named.

It also demanded that Syria respond “unambiguously and immediately” in areas the commission found necessary, but did not expand the probe to include other attacks in Lebanon over the past 14 months, as the Lebanese government had asked.

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