BEIRUT,(Reuters) – Five Syrian officials summoned by a U.N. inquiry into the killing of Lebanon”s former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri for questioning in Austria have left for Vienna, diplomatic sources said on Sunday.
"The officials and their lawyers have left for Vienna and the questioning sessions will start tomorrow as scheduled," one source said. "The questioning has been postponed from last week by U.N. investigators."
Syrian officials declined comment. Damascus has also refused to identify the five officials that other diplomatic sources said include Syria”s former intelligence chief in Lebanon, Lieutenant General Rustom Ghazali.
A diplomatic source has identified the rest as Lieutenant General Thafer Youssef; Lieutenant General Abdul-Karim Abbas; and Ghazali”s aide, Jamea Jamea.
A Syrian source has said the fifth is a civilian official but refused to identify him. Diplomats have said that none of the five is a senior government official.
Hoping to avert a United Nations showdown, Syria agreed in November to allow U.N. investigators to question the officials at U.N. offices in Vienna after receiving guarantees from an undisclosed permanent Security Council member.
The guarantees include a pledge that the five would be allowed to return to Damascus after being quizzed.
Lebanese political sources have said the head of the U.N. team, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, asked earlier in November to question six officials including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad”s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat and Bahjat Suleiman, a former intelligence senior officer.
But, Chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis said earlier this week his team might seek to question more Syrian officials and denied there was a deal with Damascus over whom he could summon.
In an interim report last month, Mehlis said he had evidence of Syrian and Lebanese officials” involvement in Hariri”s murder. Syria denies any role in the killing of its former ally.
Earlier this week, a Syrian witness accused Lebanese officials of an elaborate scheme of threats, bribery and torture to induce him to testify falsely against Syria and said the inquiry”s initial findings rested largely on his lies.
Mehlis accused Damascus of using the witness, Hosam Taher Hosam as a propaganda tool. Mehlis speaking to Lebanese newspapers on Thursday said his investigation had not been undermined by Hosam.
Mehlis has interviewed more than 500 people in connection with Hariri”s killing. His report did not name Hosam.
Lebanon has already charged four pro-Syrian security generals in connection with the assassination on Mehlis”s recommendation.
The U.N. Security Council has threatened Syria with unspecified action unless it cooperates fully with the inquiry.