CAIRO and BEIRUT (Reuters) – United Nations investigators probing the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri cannot meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhl-Allah said on Thursday.
Asked if Syria rejected holding a meeting between Assad and the investigators, Dakhl-Allah told Egyptian radio: “Certainly, because the issue is related to Syria’s sovereignty.”
The interview was monitored by the British Broadcasting Cooperation.
The team conducting an inquiry into Hariri’s death in a Beirut bomb blast on Feb. 14 has been trying to interview Assad. Diplomats had said previously the Syrian leader had refused.”Syria is committed to its independence and sovereignty. This is a red line that cannot be crossed,” Dakhl-Allah added.
Syria has strongly denied any role in Hariri’s killing.
However, former Syrian Vice-President Abdel-Halim Khaddam has accused Assad of ordering Hariri’s assassination.
Asked if he thought Assad was directly responsible for Hariri’s killing, Khaddam, now based in Paris, told Britain’s Sky Television in an interview broadcast on Thursday: “In my belief, yes, my personal belief is that he ordered it.”
“But at the end of the day there is an investigation. They must give the final decision,” he added.
The United States has called on Syria to cease what it calls “obstruction” and to respond positively to requests by the U.N. investigators to interview officials.
Furthermore, United Nations investigators probing the murder of a former Lebanese prime minister will question four Syrians in Vienna next week, sources familiar with the inquiry said on Thursday.
They said the four include the former chief of Syria’s intelligence in Lebanon, Lt. Gen. Rustom Ghazali, and will be questioned on Monday. The U.N. inquiry had already questioned Ghazali and identified him as a suspect.
The four also include Hosam Hosam, a witness who had implicated Syrian officials in the Feb. 14 assassination of Rafik al-Hariri but who later fled Beirut for Syria, where he said his accusations were false.
The inquiry team requested in a letter late last month to interview Syrian foreign minister, Farouk al-Shara, and other officials. Shara will not be among those questioned next week, the sources said.