Damascus, Asharq Al-Awsat- President Bashar Assad said on Thursday Syria would cooperate fully with a UN probe into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri but held little hope that it would avert pressure on Damascus.
“No matter what we do and how much we cooperate, the result after a month will be that Syria did not cooperate… but we have to do our duty,” Assad said in a televised speech, seen by many as his last chance to avoid a showdown with the UN.
However, he lashed out at international pressure and said cooperation would cease if Syria “would be harmed”.
Assad indicated the country was not willing to sacrifice its security and stability and warned that any harm to Syria would destabilize the region.
“We are ready to cooperate with a framework that will lead to uncovering the crime… But we will not go toward killing ourselves under pressure,” he added. “We support international legitimacy but not at the expense of our national interest.”
Assad said that UN investigator Detlev Mehlis had turned down an invitation to visit the Syrian capital and discuss cooperation.
Syria has repeatedly denied any involvement in the Hariri killing and has set up its own independent inquiry headed by prosecutor Ghada Murad.
The Syrian inquiry has begun questioning six members of Assad’s inner circle, including his brother-in-law Asef Shawkat, head of military intelligence- effectively preventing them from travelling to Beirut to give evidence as the probe had demanded.
“They are expected to stay in Syria until the interrogation is concluded,” a spokesman for the inquiry said.
On Wednesday, Mehlis was invited to visit Damascus to sign a protocol of understanding dealing with the interrogation of Syrian suspects in the murder, according to the Syrian official media.
Informed sources indicated the UN investigator “was examining the letter and did not object to signing the protocol if it does not stand against his demand to interrogate the six officers either at the Montiverde Hotel or outside Lebanon and Syria , perhaps in Cyprus .”
Meanwhile in Beirut, sources predicted that a new wave of arrests would take place in the coming days, raising the number to 20 in order to complete the investigation in Lebanon by the end of November.
“Amongst those to be detained will be former politicians who enjoyed Syrian protection before it withdrew its troops, including ex- cabinet ministers and members of parliament, as well as officers close to the four generals arrested” in August, sources said. – with agencies