Assad family names censored from report into Hariri killing

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The Independent Online

The report says senior Syrian and Lebanese security officials were directly involved in the killing of Hariri in February and planned it over many weeks. The missing names are of Asef Shawkat, President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law who is Syria's intelligence chief, and his brother, Maher Assad.

President George Bush called on the United Nations yesterday to convene a session as soon as possible to deal with the report. It "strongly suggests that the politically motivated assassination could not have taken place without Syrian involvement," Mr Bush said.

Detlev Mehlis, the UN investigator and author of the report, acknowledged some names had been struck from the final version, submitted on Thursday to the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, and to the Security Council. He denied he had made the changes because of outside pressure.

With or without the changes, the report is highly flammable for President Assad and for Emile Lahoud, the pro-Syrian President of Lebanon. Mr Lahoud denied the report's assertion that he received a telephone call from a suspect just minutes before the car bomb that killedHariri and 20 other people.

"Even an initial reading of the report is deeply troubling," Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, said last night as she demanded that Syria be held accountable.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who was in Alabama with Ms Rice, called the report, "an unpleasant story which the international community will take very seriously". Britain, the US and France will lead consideration of new sanctions on Syria in the Security Council when it meets next Tuesday.

Mr Mehlis writes of "converging evidence" to show the involvement of Lebanese and Syrian officials. He has been given an extension until December to continue his inquiry.

The decision to kill Hariri, it says, "could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials and could not have been further organised without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services". The report also accuses Farouk Shara, Syria's Foreign Minister, of having lied in a letter sent to the investigating commission.

According to the report, Hariri may have sealed his fate when he tried to block a Damascus-backed amendment to Lebanon's constitution that allowed for an extension of Mr Lahoud's term of office. Hariri resigned as prime minister in protest after the amendment was passed.

Mr Shawkat and Maher Assad,witnesses said, talked about killing Hariri in talks begun in September last year in Damascus. It was from incriminating passages describing those meetings that the names were erased. Computer records suggest Mr Mehlis struck out the names either immediately after or during a meeting with Mr Annan in New York on Thursday. The prosecutor from Berlin said he had not realised the report would be released to the public and to leave the names there would have harmed the men's right to be presumed innocent until found guilty.