- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

BEIRUT (AP) — A U.N. commission said yesterday it had asked a second time to question Syria’s president about the assassination of a former Lebanese leader, turning up the pressure on Damascus after a former top government official said President Bashar Assad had issued a threat before the killing.

The commission’s spokeswoman, Nasra Hassan, said it also wants to interview former Syrian Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam “as soon as possible.”

Mr. Khaddam, a one-time stalwart of Syria’s ruling party, said in a television interview last week that Mr. Assad had threatened former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri several months before Mr. Hariri’s Feb. 14 truck-bomb assassination in Beirut.

The charges that Mr. Assad said he would “crush whoever attempts to overturn our decision” to keep a pro-Syrian leader in Lebanon further deepened suspicions of Syrian involvement in the killing.

The U.N. commission asked to interview Mr. Assad in July, but was refused. Mr. Hassan said it is “waiting for a response from the Syrians.” The Syrian government did not comment.

Syrian legislator Faysal Kalthoum said Damascus would reject the U.N. committee’s request to interview Mr. Assad if it violates the dignity of the presidency.

“This request must not contradict the constitutional and legal rules surrounding the dignity of the presidency, the symbol of sovereignty and national dignity,” he told the Associated Press. If it does, it will be rejected by all Syrians, he said.

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