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French Version

Ghazaleh gives fresh evidence to UN probe team

Two Syrian intelligence officers have given further evidence in Vienna Monday to the UN commission investigating the murder of former Premier Rafik Hariri, a Syrian diplomat said. According to Syria's ambassador to Austria Safwan Ghanem, the officers being interrogated are Syria's former head of intelligence in Lebanon, Rustom Ghazaleh, and his deputy, retired colonel Samih Kashaami.

Both officers arrived in Vienna on Sunday with a legal team and were heard earlier by the commission in December.

"I think it has begun," said Ghanem, adding he did not expect the hearings to last beyond Monday.

The precise duration of the interviews, he said, lay "in the hands of the commission."

The investigators were expected to ask Ghazaleh mainly about financial issues,the Al-Hayat Arab daily reported on Monday.

A Beirut-based diplomatic source said four Syrians were being questioned but another source later said only two had made the trip to Europe.

It is believed that the four Syrians whom investigators want to interview also include Houssam Houssam, a civilian witness who had implicated Syrian officials in Hariri's assassination but then fled Beirut to Syria and retracted his testimony. The fourth is said to be Brigadier Abdelkarim Abbas of the intelligence's Palestine department.

Two other Syrians, Zaher Youssef, the head of Syrian communications and Jamaa Jamaa, another of Ghazaleh's deputies, will undergo other hearing sessions, according to a source quoted by the An-Nahar daily on Monday.

The commission, led since last week by Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, also wants to speak to Syrian President Bashar Assad and Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa.

In an interview with the German weekly Stern, outgoing UN commissioner Detlev Mehlis said the international commission is still awaiting Syria's response to a request for interviewing Assad and that the Syrian response would indicate how ready the Syrians are to positively cooperate.

Mehlis, former head of the UN probe into Hariri's murder, was described as the person whose life is most in danger in the Middle East by the weekly's interview which was published on Monday in the Lebanese daily As Safir.

He said that he was threatened while on mission in Lebanon and that he was still living under tight security measures in Germany.

Mehlis added that the assassination of Lebanese MP Gebran Tueni last month was a message to him and to other members of the international commission of investigation just before he was due to hand over his second report to the UN Security Council.

"Tueni's assassination is a personal message to me and the committee members. Their message was the following 'you can do what you want. This will change nothing. You can write as many reports as you want. We will continue in spite of everything,'" Mehlis said.

He said he was shocked when he heard the news of the attack on Tueni whom he knew personally and had grown fond of.

"The killer wanted to silence the voice of opposition to Syria through Gebran Tueni's assassination. The goal was to threaten journalists and politicians," he said.

Mehlis said the investigation "became especially exciting" after Abdel-Halim Khaddam, former Syrian vice-president, accused Syrian authorities of involvement at the highest level in the Hariri murder.

"This was a real surprise. Khaddam is no ordinary person. He was vice president for 20 years. A man in his position has a lot of information that he gave to a reputable Arab media organization," Mehlis said, referring to Al-Arabiyya television station that Khaddam made his revelations to.

He said Brammertz may conclude investigations in less time than he had originally expected. Mehlis had earlier predicted that the probe may take years.

Meanwhile, Elias Eid, the magistrate overlooking the investigation into the assassination of Hariri, issued Monday formal requests for specific information from the Lebanese security services.

Judicial sources said the Lebanese judiciary postponed a request to the Syrian authorities to hand in Houssam, after it was informed that the international committee will summon him for a second round of interrogation in its headquarters in Monteverde.

The sources said the international committee could issue a list of recommendations against Houssam especially since some of Houssam's confession was corroborated by his Lebanese fiancee Tharwat al-Hujeiri.

Meanwhile, in Damascus, former Syrian Justice Minister, Nabil al-Khatib was appointed the new head of the Syrian investigation committee into Hariri's assassination - established in November 2005 - according to Syrian official sources.

Two new lawyers: Mohammad al-Louji and Hala Barbara, were also appointed as members of the committee.

Another source quoted by Future Television said a group of Syrian businessmen had gathered funds to financially support the interviewing of the Syrian officials in Vienna.

Beirut 16-01-2006
The Daily Star

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