Syrian, British ministers spar over Hariri murder
Irwin Arieff – Reuters October 31, 2005
Syria's foreign minister angrily accused the U.N. Security Council on Monday of wrongly assuming his country's involvement in the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, prompting a bitter public exchange with his British counterpart.
Syria's Farouq al-Shara infuriated Jack Straw by saying that implicating top Syrian officials in Hariri's assassination was like charging U.S., Spanish and British authorities with involvement in September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington; March 11, 2004, bombings in Madrid; and July 7, 2005, attacks in London.
Straw, in turn, angered Shara by comparing Hariri's killing to "the mediaeval practice of political assassination."
"The investigation of the crime also took place in near-medieval circumstances, where the accused are presumed guilty without due process," Shara said.
The confrontation occurred after the 15-nation council unanimously adopted a resolution demanding Syrian cooperation with a U.N. inquiry into Hariri's February 14 killing in a suicide truck bombing in Beirut.
The probe led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis found "converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act." It also concluded Syrian officials had failed to cooperate fully with the probe.
Shara flatly denied Syrian involvement and that Damascus had failed to cooperate. Official Syrian involvement had been presumed mainly because of the lengthy planning that took place before the killing and the plot's complexity, he said.
Because the British authorities had been trained on how to deal with terror attacks even before the July 7 bombings, "can we accuse them now of having had prior knowledge of such attacks?" he asked.
Straw retorted that it was "most grotesque and insensitive" to compare Syria to Britain under the circumstances.
Syria had insisted that interviews with potential Syrian witnesses be conducted in the Foreign Ministry building with Syrian officials and note-takers present, he said.
The witnesses had provided "uniform answers" as if rehearsed, he said, adding that Shara himself had been accused of giving investigators "false information" in a letter.
Mehlis had found probable cause to believe the decision to kill Hariri could not have been made without the approval of high-ranking Syrian security officials, Straw said.
"If, Dr. al-Shara, what you are suggesting is that what happened on the 11th of September, the 11th of March and the 7th of July happened with the approval of the governments of the United States, of Spain and the United Kingdom, I think you ought to say so. Otherwise your comparison is entirely useless," Straw said.
Last updated 04/11/2005