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French Version

New wave of arrests in Lebanon after UN report

Saad Hariri: People who planned, carried out and covered up this crime face punishment

As Lebanon and the world prepare themselves for UN Chief Investigator Detlev Mehlis' briefing to the United Nations Security Council Tuesday on his controversial report on the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, a new wave of related arrests has been carried out.

Mehlis was subject to heavy questioning from the international media at a news conference he held Friday to explain why his report was released in two different versions, one citing the names of top Syrian officials, including the brother and brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and the other with them deleted.

The German prosecutor, who left unsatisfied media hunger for the real reason behind the deleted parts of his report, issued a statement after the conference saying: "I established a rule that any person named in witness testimony should not be named in the report unless that person has been charged with a crime related to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri."

Despite that, Beirut MP Saad Hariri, son of the slain premier, said in televised speech from his residence in Saudi Arabia: "The investigation's report is a major first step in uncovering the truth. We look forward to continuing chapters toward justice, which alone will be the source of total comfort for the Lebanese people."

The leader of the Future parliamentary bloc added: "The culprits who planned this terrorist crime and participated in executing and covering it up will face, God willing, the punishment they deserve."

Also on Saturday, the Cabinet discussed the Mehlis report, which it said was based on "strong facts and a high level of professionalism."

The Cabinet called on Syria to cooperate with the investigation, but Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said the probe "will not affect ties with Damascus. Lebanon's excellent relations with Syria must not be affected or regress under any circumstances."

On Sunday, Ahmad Jibril, leader of the pro-Syrian Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command, who was named in the report as a possible suspect who plotted the assassination with Syrian and Lebanese officers, slammed Mehlis' investigating techniques.

Jibril said Mehlis had never approached him or his group for a statement as he did with other people who were named by "supposed witnesses."

"This report is not professional and doesn't include any ethical standard of work nor the objectivity it should have," he said.

Jibril added: "I have never met any of the Syrian or Lebanese officers who Mehlis' witness claimed I did."

He said the accusation "aims at disarming Palestinian factions, including ours."

Jibril's statement came as clashes erupted outside the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Sidon between the remnants of the Palestinian militia Jund al-Sham and a group of armed Lebanese.

Three men were wounded and one man was reported dead in the clashes.

Meanwhile, a Lebanese presidential spokesman refuted on Sunday media allegations that President Emile Lahoud had refused to meet with Mehlis.

He also commented on a paragraph in the report claiming that, three minutes before the blast that killed Hariri, Lahoud had received a call on his cellular phone from a mobile used by suspects in the case.

"The cellular phone in the president's office is one of several lines known to everyone and on which the president's office receives calls from citizens and politician making complaints or appointment requests," he said.

"So if the call was made on one of the lines in the president's office that does not mean the call was made to the president."

The phone call was made by a Mahmoud Abdel Al, an official in the Islamic Al-Ahbash group, according to the report. More arrests According to judicial sources, Lebanese authorities arrested Mahmoud Abdel Al late Saturday on orders from State Prosecutor Said Mirza. Despite some reports that the arrest is the first in connection with Hariri's murder since publication of the report, security sources confirmed to The Daily Star that a State Security general, Faisal al-Rashid, and several military officers were detained early Friday, shortly after the report was issued to the press.

The report had cited Al's brother, Ahmad Abdel Al, as a key figure in the assassination plot. Ahmad is currently being held for illegal arms dealing, after the authorities found a large number of weapons in a warehouse belonging to him.

Security sources also said four men were arrested Saturday on charges of carrying out terrorist acts, including explosions, under orders from former Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon General Jamaa Jamaa. The four men are being held for questioning.

Eleven Lebanese officials were reported to be banned from traveling outside the country, although there is no confirmation of this. Martyrs' Square demonstration The Future Movement staged a demonstration Sunday near Hariri's grave in Martyrs' Square, demanding those named in Mehlis' report be punished for involvement in assassinating Hariri. Bilal Hatab, head of the Association of Graduates from the Hariri Foundation, called on everyone who took part in the March 14 demonstration, (also known as the Cedar revolution), to stand united. Nader Naqib, spokesman for a group of youth organizations, demanded the setting up of an international court to try the culprits.

Beirut 25-10-2005
The Daily Star

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