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UN Report on Hariri Killing Puts More Pressure on Lebanese Government, Syria

The just-released United Nations report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is sure to put increased pressure on Syria and on Lebanon's pro-Syrian government. The report is seen as strengthening demands for an in-depth international investigation.

Neither the Lebanese government nor Syria were spared, and both are now seen as being under increasing pressure to agree to, and even assist in, an international investigation into Mr. Hariri's assassination.

The U.N. report accused Lebanese authorities of negligence and of basically having bungled the investigation into Mr. Hariri's murder. It cited specifics, including the disappearance of crucial evidence and tampering with the crime scene.

While the report did not specifically blame Syria for the assassination, it did say that Damascus was behind the political tension and weak security in Lebanon that led to Mr. Hariri's death. The report also quoted Hariri aides, who said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad threatened Mr. Hariri with physical harm.

Political analyst Professor Sami Baroudi of Beirut's Lebanese American University tells VOA, the report has put both the Lebanese government and Syria on the defensive.

"It is definitely a setback for the government in Lebanon,” he said. “The Syrians were quite unhappy with the tone and the very blunt insinuations that they might have contributed to the assassination. So, I think it puts both governments on the defensive, and emboldens the opposition. And, I don't see any way out of this, except by having an international investigation."

The U.S. State Department issued a statement late Thursday saying the U.N. report raises "serious and troubling allegations" about the February 14 killing of Mr. Hariri.

The State Department also expressed "strong support" for an independent international inquiry into the killing and renewed the U.S. call for a withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Despite initially rejecting any international investigation into the assassination, Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, is now saying his government will assist such a probe.

Damascus was quick to reject any blame, instead accusing the United States and France of sowing division in Lebanon with the passage last year of Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls on Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon.

Many Lebanese have long resented the presence of Syrian troops and intelligence officers in Lebanon, a simmering resentment that burst into massive anti-Syrian and anti-government street demonstrations following Rafik Hariri's assassination.

The Syrians have begun to pull out, and the pressure is on for them to complete the process soon.

Lebanon remains in political turmoil with no real working government. Prime Minister Omar Karami is still calling for opposition groups to join a national unity government, but so far, the opposition has rejected the offer. The U.N. report is seen as emboldening the opposition to stick to its demands.