|Mehlis slated to resign from mission
|Detlev Mehlis, the head of the UN investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, plans to resign from his mission when his mandate expires on December 15, UN diplomats said Thursday.
Lebanese Justice Minister Charles Rizk said after meeting Mehlis on Thursday that the investigator had told him he would not continue with the investigation if its mandate was to be extended.
Rizk noted that investigations into the February bombing could "last months, if not years."
Mehlis had met earlier in the day with Premier Fouad Siniora.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric would not confirm the reports, saying only "Mehlis made it clear to the secretary general when he took on the job that he was willing to do this for six months."
A spokeswoman for the German mission to the UN, Katja Wiesbrock-Donovan, said her government had made no official request for Mehlis to step down.
"It is up to him what he decides," she said.
Lebanese Arabic daily As-Safir said in an article published Thursday there were "German political considerations" behind Mehlis' decision. The paper said the German government feared a negative impact on its interests around the Middle East due to the probe.
UN Undersecretary General Ibrahim Gambari said Wednesday Mehlis may have his own reasons to leave the probe, but the investigation will continue "with or without" him.
Lebanon will ask the Security Council to extend the mandate of the Hariri investigation, Defense Minister Elias Murr said on Thursday.
"The government agreed to ask the United Nations to extend the mandate of the inquiry for six months," Murr told reporters after a weekly Cabinet session.
Mehlis was expected to submit his final report by mid-December but the 15-member council could extend the inquiry.
Meanwhile, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah al-Dardari said Syria may eventually hand over any of its nationals indicted for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, adding Russia had guaranteed a deal with the UN investigation committee.
While in London on Thursday, Dardari said: "If [Mehlis] wants to indict anyone, the indictment should go to Syria and through the Syrian legal process. The person will be arrested by the Syrian authorities and then handed over to the United Nations."
He added that the five Syrians to be questioned by UN investigators in Vienna next week will have their lawyers with them under a deal brokered by Russia.
He explained the deal guaranteed Syrian and international law would be applied in the legal process of questioning by the UN investigators, and would also apply to any arrests that might be made.
Dardari said Syrian President Bashar Assad had already made clear any Syrian national proved to have been involved in Hariri's murder "would be dealt with as a traitor" and tried at home or abroad.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Investigative Magistrate Elias Eid questioned Tharwat Hujeiri, Syrian witness Houssam Taher Houssam's fiance, regarding Houssam's claim on Wednesday that she was being "harassed, pressured and subjected to bribery" to testify against him.
Following a meeting with Lebanese Forces executive committee leader Samir Geagea, United States Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman criticized Houssam's allegations as "Syrian propaganda."
Judicial sources said the Lebanese Judiciary was studying the legal procedures of asking its Syrian counterpart to summon Houssam to appear before Investigative Magistrate Elias Eid to clarify statements he gave in Damascus.
The judicial sources said the Lebanese Judiciary was also considering pressing charges against Houssam for "misleading the probe and making false statements."
Meanwhile, Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt said his "relationship with the regime of Assad has reached a deadlock," adding "no compromise could be reached with this regime until the truth into the assassination of Hariri is uncovered."
In an interview with Al-Shiraa magazine, Jumblatt said Syria was not Iraq and that the "collapse of the Syrian regime" will not lead to "chaos."
Meanwhile, LBC presenter May Chidiac denied Houssam's allegations they had met a couple of times at UN investigation headquarters in Monteverde.
Chidiac, who headed to Paris Thursday to continue medical treatment after surviving a car bomb attack in September, said Houssam's testimony "is false and his statements are not based on any facts," in an interview with the Free Lebanon radio station.
UN probe chief Detlev Mehlis set to continue mission
Detlev Mehlis, the head of a U.N. investigation team into the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, is likely to stay on, Lebanese political sources said on Sunday, after Beirut asked for the probe to be extended. The interrogations of five Syrian officials are also expected to begin Monday at UN headquarters in Vienna without the supervision of UN chief investigator Detlev Mehlis.
A team of investigators from the UN investigating team are expected to carry out the interrogations of the five Syrian officers regarding the crime.
It is understood that Brigadier General Rustom Ghazaleh, the head of Syria's intelligence apparatus in Lebanon from 2002 until the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, and his assistant Intelligence Colonel Jamaa Jamaa, will be among the five officials questioned.
Mehlis, who heads the UN investigation commission probing the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, returned to Lebanon late Sunday after a short trip to France.
It is also understood that a key Syrian witness, Mohammad Zuheir Siddiq, is being detained in France on suspicion of having provided the UN team with false information regarding Syrian and Lebanese officials.
Another Syrian key witness, Houssam Taher Houssam, said last week he had given false testimony to the probe indicting Syrian and Lebanese officials in Hariri's murder.
Meanwhile, Syria criticized the UN probe for attempts to "enclose Syria" on Sunday, saying the "current investigations do not aim at finding the truth but are taking place to damage Syria's national and patriotic positions."
Syrian Justice Minister Mohammad Ghofari was quoted by Syria's SANA news agency as saying "The investigations should be based on concrete evidence in order to reach the truth that all sides accept."
Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah was also quoted by the Syrian Al-Baath newspaper as saying "to reach the truth, it is necessary for the investigations to be professional and far from political pressures exerted by Lebanese parties."
"The testimony of Syrian witness Houssam Taher Houssam has called into question essential points of (Mehlis') interim report. Following the uncovering of this witness, we would like the UN probe to carry its investigations far from political pressures."
Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora on Saturday officially requested that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan extend the mandate of the UN probe for an additional six months.
Siniora said the Lebanese government wanted "the inquiry to continue its work for six more months, open to further extensions, after its December 15 deadline," according to a statement from the premier's office.
"During the phone call between Siniora and Annan, the latter told the premier he would use every means possible to convince the magistrate to stay in his post," it added.
The Lebanese Cabinet agreed on Thursday to ask the UN to extend the probe's mission.
Former Lebanese Interior Minister and pro-Syrian figure Suleiman Franjieh said Sunday the "UN probe's report should be considered as null and void because it was built on false information."
Franjieh explained that Houssam had "destroyed the work of the UN probe" by giving false information, and called upon the international inquiry to "re-question (Houssam) and all those who were mentioned in the report to achieve a just and correct inquiry."
"Syria is being pressured today," he added, claiming other unspecified countries in the region, including Lebanon, are falling under these pressures.
Beirut MP Boutros Harb said in a televised interview with Al-Jazeera late Saturday that Mehlis' report was based on a wide array of information provided by individuals that were not included or named in the interim report presented to the UN on October 20.
Mehlis' report had indicted Syria in Hariri's assassination based on several witnesses' statements, including that of Siddiq and Houssam.
He said that, according to Mehlis, the report was based on more than 500 witnesses' statements, in addition to evidence taken from the crime scene.
Harb added that Houssam "has inflicted harm upon Syria without benefiting it when he confessed of giving false information to the UN probe."
The Beirut MP explained: "If this man (Houssam), as it has been said, was planted by the Syrian intelligence to give Mehlis false information," then the Syrian aim was to "mislead the investigations."
Meanwhile, three Lebanese citizens from the South pressed charges against Houssam on Saturday for fraud and stealing $14,000.
Ahmad Laqqis, Abbas Balhas and Hassan Sharara said in their affidavit "Houssam had convinced them he can provide them with working visas to Western countries," and that he had collected the money from them and then "disappeared."
This legal suit comes just one week after Houssam held a televised news conference in Damascus to allege that he had been coerced and offered money by numerous Lebanese and UN officials to implicate Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the Hariri assassination.
Raed El Rafei
The Daily Star