Investigators probing the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri say fresh evidence has reinforced their suspicions of official Syrian and Lebanese involvement. A report on the killing criticizes Syria for attempting to obstruct the investigation.
In his second report to the U.N. Security Council, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis says he has identified 19 people suspected of involvement in the Hariri assassination. Among them are senior Syrian officials and Lebanese intelligence operatives, but the report does not identify them.
The 25-page document accuses Syria of trying to obstruct the probe. The allegation is similar to one made in the first Mehlis report in October. In addition, however, this latest report urges Damascus to detain Syrians identified as suspects.
The report says recently interviewed witnesses have provided critical new information about the assassination. That includes testimony from two Syrian officials who told investigators that all Syrian intelligence documents on Lebanon had been burned.
The two officials were among five Syrians interviewed by investigators earlier this month in Vienna. The report says all five are included in the list of suspects.
After an initial reading of the report, Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton called Mr. Mehlis's findings "disturbing". "He delineates quite extensively continued Syrian obstructionism. And even though some cooperation has been forthcoming, the substance of the Mehlis report shows failure by the government of Syria to comply with resolution 1636," he said.
The Security Council adopted resolution 1636 after the first Mehlis report. It demands full Syrian cooperation with the probe.
Syria has repeatedly denied involvement in the bomb blast that killed Mr. Hariri and 22 others last February. Syria's U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad Monday also rejected suggestions that Damascus has failed to cooperate with the Mehlis investigation.
"Syria has fully cooperated with Mr. Mehlis. It is Mr. Mehlis who chose the time. He decided when to meet with the Syrians, and accordingly Syria provided him with all he wanted, without reservations, without any delay. So if there is any delay, it was on his side," he said.
In a related development Monday, the Security Council adopted a statement condemning the latest assassination in Beirut. Prominent Lebanese journalist and member of parliament, Gibran Tueni, died earlier in the day in a bomb attack similar to the one that killed Mr. Hariri.
Afterward, U.S. Ambassador Bolton noted that the Council statement referred pointedly to Mr. Tueni's role in standing up for Lebanese sovereignty. "President Bush and Secretary Rice have also issued statements. Significantly their statements and the statement adopted by the Security Council president all refer to Mr. Tueni as a patriot. A Lebanese patriot. And the Security Council refers to his important role in defending Lebanese sovereignty and political independence and freedom," he said.
Ambassador Bolton expressed confidence that the Council would approve Mr. Mehlis's request for a six-month extension of the investigation. He also indicated the Council is considering expanding the scope of the investigation's mandate to include the killing of Mr. Tueni and other political assassinations.
Mr. Mehlis is to brief the Council on his latest report Tuesday. He has made clear, however, that he is stepping down as head of the investigation to return to his job as a prosecutor in Berlin. U.N. officials are urgently involved in the search for a successor to lead the final stages of the probe.