Beirut, Asharq al-Awsat — Nusrat Hassan, the spokeswoman for the international commission investigating the crime of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, has confirmed that the commission did ask the Syrian authorities “to meet” President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara”as quickly as possibly.” She told “Asharq al-Awsat” yesterday the commission sent its request through the known channels, is waiting for the Syrian authorities’ reply, and is expecting this reply to be positive and the cooperation to be complete.
Hassan refused to go into details of the “impressions” that (former Syrian Vice President) Abdul Halim Khaddam created with the investigation commission by his recent remarks even though she underlined “the deep interest to listen to what he has to say at the earliest possible opportunity.” She added that her role is to explain the commission’s statements and not make press statements.
In the same context, a Lebanese source close to the investigation commission disclosed that it would resume its investigations before the end of this week following the return of German Judge Gerhard Lehman, the commission’s, deputy chairman, to Beirut tomorrow after spending the Christmas holidays in his country. The source stressed that Khaddam’s remarks and serious allegations about the official Syrian regime’s threats to Al-Hariri would change the commission’s work plan which will proceed at a noticeable speed after Judge Detlev Mehlis’s successor the Belgian Serge Brammertz assumes his new task on 11 January.
Citing commission members, the source said the request to listen to the Syrian and Lebanese Presidents Bashar al-Assad and Emile Lahhud and senior officials in the two countries are likely to be its priority for the next and final stage. Members in the commission are expecting the United Nations to exert strong pressures on the Syrian and Lebanese leaderships to comply and cooperate with the commission so as to speed up the uncovering of the truth. They point out that the approval of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Security Council members of Brammertz’s conditions for accepting this task bolsters these expectations. These conditions include pressuring Syria to cooperate absolutely with him, handing over to him any political or security figure he wants to question at the venue and time he chooses, the Lebanese judiciary’s acceleration of its steps in parallel with the commission’s work — that is, to detain any suspect that the commission asks for his arrest — that the bill of indictment should be issued within two months after the international commission completes its mission, and that all the evidence, documents, and information it has are handed over to it.
The Lebanese source pointed out that Brammertz’s stage of the investigation would be quick and effective and he would not allow any party or figure, whether Syrian or Lebanese and no matter how high its position is, to claim immunity and impede the investigation progress as had happened with Mehlis when he wished to question Syrian officials. The source said: “In other words, the immunities have been removed from all. Anyone claiming innocence must comply with the requirements of the international investigation and defend himself with facts and truth and not from platforms because the age of resonant speeches is over. The world is waiting to know the truth about the assassinations that are not worrying the Lebanese alone but the entire international community too.”
On the other hand, a prominent Syrian official said yesterday President Al-Assad would not respond to the investigation commission’s request to meet him. Ahmad Haj Ali, an official in the ruling Baath Party and the Syrian Information Ministry’s adviser, said: “There will not be a possibility of achieving such a request that indicates a prior intention and a quick response to the demands of the anti-Syrian forces.” He added in a statement to the German news agency: “This quick request by the international investigation to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must have a connection with the statements of former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam.”