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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Syria Lashes Out at 'Negative' UN Resolution

DAMASCUS, Syria -- Syria sharply criticized on Tuesday a UN resolution ordering it to cooperate fully with an international inquiry into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri or face unspecified action.

"We consider the resolution to be very negative toward Syria, and as it is unanimous this makes it more problematic," a Foreign Ministry source said of Monday's Security Council vote.

"It is accusatory and adopts the assumptions that [chief UN investigator Detlev] Mehlis had arrived at which we consider hasty and not objective enough," the source said.

Mehlis, the German prosecutor conducting the inquiry, has already pointed to Syrian security officials as suspects in the Feb. 14 Beirut bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others.

His Oct. 20 report spoke of "converging evidence" of Syrian and Lebanese involvement in Hariri's killing and said it would be hard to imagine how such a plot could have gone ahead without the knowledge of Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services.

Tightening the diplomatic noose around Syria, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the council that the resolution "made it clear that failure to comply with these demands will lead to serious consequences from the international community."

But unanimity was achieved only after the United States, France and Britain, sponsors of the resolution, agreed to drop an explicit threat of economic sanctions against Syria. Otherwise, Russia, China and Algeria might have abstained.

Instead, the resolution says the council "could consider further action" if Syria fails to meet demands that include detaining anyone whom Mehlis wants to question.

Diplomats expressed shock later on Monday at Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa's response to the resolution that had been passed unanimously just an hour before. Al-Sharaa accused Mehlis' earlier report to the council of essentially convicting Syria before it had faced trial.

"It proceeds from the presumption that Syria is accused of committing this crime rather than a presumption of innocence," al-Sharaa said.

He then claimed that accusing Syrian security forces of having advance knowledge of Hariri's killing was tantamount to charging that U.S. officials knew ahead of time about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Spanish authorities knew in advance about the 2004 Madrid train bombings and the British government about this summer's London subway and bus bombings. And he went a step further, raising questions about why Britain had trained for similar scenarios soon before the attacks occurred.

The comment visibly angered British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who called it "the most grotesque and insensitive comparison," "appalling," and "absurd." He said any council member concerned about adopting the resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which is militarily enforceable, should have had their misgivings allayed by al-Sharaa.

On Tuesday, Russia defended its stance at the UN, saying it had spared Damascus the threat of sanctions and of being linked, without proof, with terrorist activities.

A statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry said: "Thanks to the efforts of the Russian side and other delegations, politicized stances that had nothing to do with the investigation of Hariri's death were withdrawn.

"The threat of automatic sanctions against Syria as a state was removed. Attempts to accuse Damascus, without proof, of involvement in terrorist activities were rejected," it said.

Russia, a close ally of Syria since Cold War times, said the resolution, as passed, opened the way for "broad and effective dialogue between the Syrian side and international investigators."

Mehlis returned to Beirut hours after passage of the resolution, which also orders Damascus to give investigators complete access to places, documents and people.

The UN accepted earlier this month a Lebanese request for the investigation to be extended until Dec. 15.

An unedited version of Mehlis' report named as suspects two close relatives of Syrian President Bashar Assad -- his brother Maher Assad, a key military commander, and Assef Shawkat, his brother-in-law and military intelligence chief.

The death of Hariri, an opponent of Syrian domination of his country, transformed Lebanon's political landscape.

The killing led to a pullout of Syrian troops from Lebanon after three decades and has piled pressure on Damascus, which Washington accuses of aiding insurgents in neighboring Iraq and of undermining Middle East peace efforts.

Damascus dismisses the investigation as politically motivated. It denies any role in Hariri's assassination.

(Reuters, AP)