Syria's information minister is rejecting the UN report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. The report implicates several senior Syrian officials, including the president's brother-in-law. Meanwhile, the Lebanese president is facing increased pressure to resign.
Syrian response to the report has been somewhat muted, with most government officials saying they want to study the document before commenting. But Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah loudly blasted the report, telling al-Jazeera that it is "far from the truth" and "not professional." He called it a political statement aimed at discrediting Syria and destabilizing the region.
The report presented by chief investigator Detlev Mehlis implicates several high-level Syrian and Lebanese officials in the killing of Mr. Hariri. The final report does not name them, but an earlier draft seen by VOA did identify them. They include President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law and military intelligence chief Asef Shawkat, as well as Foreign Minister Farouq Al-Shara.
The draft also identifies three top Lebanese generals, including one of President Emile Lahoud's top aides. Mr. Lahoud has close ties to Damascus. President Lahoud himself is accused of receiving a telephone call from another suspect, just moments after the blast that killed Mr. Hariri.
His spokesman, Rafiq Shalala, denied the allegation.
He says, such a telephone call did not happen." He then says the president's office has many cellphones, used for fielding calls from the public. He says, "It might be that such a telephone call was made to the office of the president, but that does not mean it was made to the president."
The spokesman rejected calls for the president's resignation, saying they are politically motivated. Mr. Shalala categorically denied any link between Mr. Lahoud and the assassination.
He says President Lahoud has been and will continue to carrying out his constitutional responsibilities. His conscience is clear and there is not a single drop of blood on his hands, thank God.
He then goes on to say Mr. Lahoud will continue as president for the duration of his term in office.
Meanwhile, the European Commission is urging Syria to fully cooperate with the UN investigators as they continue their probe into the Hariri assassination. A commission spokeswoman told reporters in Brussels that Syria will harm its own interests if it does not cooperate fully with the investigation.