Syria, Lebanon Implicated in Politician's Killing

A U.N. probe finds evidence of involvement by both Syrian and Lebanese officials in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri earlier this year. The report indicates a need for further inquiry, and the Lebanese have asked the United Nations to continue its probe until Dec. 15, when the mandate runs out.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Syria today rejected a United Nations report that links its agents to an assassination. A prosecutor working for the UN investigated the killing of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister of neighboring Lebanon. Hariri died along with 20 others when a truck bomb exploded in Beirut earlier this year. And the prosecutor says that well-planned attack could not have been carried out without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials. NPR's Deborah Amos has covered this story in Lebanon. She's reporting this morning from London.

And, Deborah, can you remind us why a killing in Lebanon would have cast suspicion on Syria in the first place?

DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

Well, Steve, Syrian security agents essentially ran Lebanon for more than 20 years. Syrian troops were stationed in Lebanon all those years, and so that is why, at the time of Rafik Hariri's death, there is so much suspicion pointed on Syria because they essentially ran the security service.

INSKEEP: Now does this report on the assassination name Syrian names?

AMOS: What it does is it names security institutions rather than specific names, but it is damaging, nonetheless, because of the specifics that you mentioned, which is that there is evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this, quote, "terrorist act." Then the UN report goes on to the conclusions of the investigation and what it essentially does is said, `We need further investigation.'

INSKEEP: Is there any specific piece of evidence that might, in this country, be described as a smoking gun, that points very directly at a Syrian individual?

AMOS: What it does is quotes three witnesses who talk about particular Lebanese security agents who were involved; in particular a quote from one who says, `We are going to send him on a trip. Bye-bye, Hariri.' It also is interesting because there was a conversation between Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, and the president of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad. And Rafik Hariri taped some conversations following that conversation. And those taped conversations are included in this report. They contradict the testimony of other Syrian officials, so that will be an interesting line of inquiry.

INSKEEP: Well, what are the implications of this report, both for Syria and for Lebanon?

AMOS: We have been watching the most remarkable game of diplomatic poker up until the release of this report. Now what we are in store for is a confrontation between Syria and at least two members of the UN Security Council; that's the United States and France. Diplomats at the United Nations have been saying that there are resolutions coming down the road. They were all waiting to see what the United Nations investigators came up with. The United Nations Security Council is likely next week to consider some resolutions, including international investigation, sanctions on Syria. This all will be discussed over the next few days between the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

INSKEEP: OK. So that's Syria. What about Lebanon?

AMOS: In Lebanon, it is very likely that the anti-Syrian politicians who won the last election will applaud these conclusions. Many Lebanese have been blaming Syria all along for the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and while this investigation doesn't actually point that finger, it goes further than anything that we've seen before. However, there's great anxiety in Lebanon. Businesses are closed down today, the schools--this is the month of Ramadan when Lebanese fast all day and then celebrate at sundown. Many of those dinners were canceled last night, probably today. You know, there's been a bunch of mysterious explosions, assassination attempts and some that were successful in Lebanon. And the Lebanese are afraid that this report will set off another round of violence.

INSKEEP: Deborah, thanks very much.

AMOS: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Deborah Amos in London.

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