|Brammertz plans to investigate all attacks since October 2004
|The UN commission investigating the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri will be "exploring all serious attacks" committed since the assassination attempt of Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamade, according to the team's new leader.
"The commission will provide technical assistance, as appropriate, in the Lebanese investigations on the terrorist attacks perpetrated in Lebanon since October 1, 2004," said the new head of the UN investigation team, Serge Brammertz, upon his arrival in Beirut under unprecedented security measures.
Brammertz, who was officially appointed on January 11 to head the international investigation for the next six months, said his priority "will remain to assist the Lebanese authorities in their investigation."
"I am acutely aware of the expectations on the part of the families of the victims, the people of Lebanon, and the international community, and I will do my utmost to meet these expectations," he said.
He also stated that the commission would continue to execute its mandate with independence and impartiality and in compliance with Security Council resolutions.
Brammertz, a Belgium on six months leave of absence from his position as Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, stressed the "discrete" and "confidential" character of his work.
Meanwhile, Syria Thursday rejected comments by the former head of the UN probe accusing Damascus of bearing responsibility for the late premier's murder.
Through its ambassador in New York, Fayssal Mekdad, Damascus has sent an official letter of protest to the UN calling on Secretary General Kofi Annan to take action.
"It is unacceptable that Mr. Mehlis used the media during his last days in office as a means of pressure and to express a deep hatred against Syria," the letter said.
In a newspaper interview in December, Detlev Mehlis said the Syrian authorities "are responsible" for the February 2005 killing.
Mehlis replied "yes" when asked by Arab daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat if he was "perfectly convinced of Syria's responsibility in the murder of Hariri."
Mekdad, who met with Brammertz Wednesday, assured the new lead investigator of Syria's willingness to cooperate fully with the UN commission and reiterated his government's wish to sign a memorandum of understanding with the probe.
Syria also condemned the U.S. government's decision to freeze the assets of Syrian military intelligence chief Assef Shawkat as an "arrogant" attempt to impose America's will around the world.
Brigadier General Shawkat is the brother-in-law of President Bashar Assad, and is one of the main players in the Syrian regime.
"This decision shows the extent of this administration's arrogant and unilateral practices in its attempts to impose its will on the international community," an unidentified Syrian official said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department ordered all U.S. banks to block any assets found in the United States belonging to Shawkat. U.S. firms were also barred from doing business with the Syrian official.
The Treasury Department alleges Shawkat has played a role in furthering Syria's "support for terrorism and interference in the sovereignty of Lebanon." The Syrian official's statement said the American action "once again proves the U.S. involvement in defending Israel's aggressive policies against the Arabs."
"The policies supported by the U.S. administration do not serve security and stability in our region," the official said.
The U.S. Treasury alleges that Shawkat had dealings with Hizbullah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Shawkat met with officials from these groups and "discussed coordination and cooperation" among them, the department alleged.
Raed El Rafei
The Daily Star