The chief U.N. investigator into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, Detlev Mehlis, has delivered his latest findings to Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Sunday.
Mehlis, who is stepping down from his post but expects the probe to continue, refused to speak to reporters about the report's contents as he met with Annan at the U.N. chief's residence on New York's East Side.
Mehlis' report was submitted four days prior to the due date for the completion of the committee's investigation.
Following the submission of the report, the U.N. Security Council is set to convene on Tuesday and discuss the findings, in a bid to decide whether to act against Syrian officials implicated in the report, or against Syria itself.
A source close to the committee reported that the U.N intends to approach the Syrian government in the coming days and demand the arrest of two of the five Syrian officials who were interrogated at t U.N. headquarters in Vienna: General Rustom Ghazale of the Syrian military intelligence, and his assistant in Beirut Jameh Jameh.
Does Mehlis fear for his safety?
In interviews to the Arab press during the weekend, Mehlis stressed that the submission of the report did not represent the termination of the investigation.
The German prosecutor recently informed Annan of his request to end his mission and not continue as head of the committee for another term. According to reports by the Arab press, Romanian and Greek prosecutors have already been named as possible replacements for Mehlis.
U.N. sources told London- based Arabic-language newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat that a Belgian judge who has been offered to replace Mehlis rejected the proposal.
Mehlis, who said he would be willing to assist the investigation team but not head it, resigned because he fears for his personal safety, some reporters said.
The report is a follow-up for the interim report presented to the U.N. on October 22. Following the first report, the Security Council has decided to extend the committee's mandate until December 15. However, it currently appears that the investigation will have to be continued, a possibility strongly supported by the Lebanese government.
‘Report to shed new light on Syrian involvement’
While the report's findings remain unpublicized, French sources told al-Sharq al-Awsat the Security Council is expected to "personally sanction" the Syrian officials suspected of involvement in the Hariri assassination. According to these sources, the United States has changed its stance on the matter, and the country is now willing to support punitive actions against individuals, after advocating collective punishment against Syria in the past.
The Security Council is expected to comply with the Lebanese government’s demand and extend the duration of the investigation by another six months, another source claimed. The Council is also expected to draft a response to the Mehlis report that will address Syria's failure to cooperate with the investigation.
Another London-based Arabic-language newspaper, al-Hayat, reported that a proposed resolution France is planning to submit during the Security Council's session will state that the Mehlis report confirms that Syrian officials took part in this "act of terror." The newspaper has maintained during the last few days that the report will shed new light on Syrian involvement in the killing.
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad warned in an interview broadcast Sunday that an attempt to impose sanctions against his nation would destabilize the region and the entire world.
Assad was speaking to Russia's Rossiya state television before this week's release of a U.N. Report on progress in the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
The Syrian president again declared his country's innocence in the murder, and said the U.N. probe was politicized.
"The Middle East is the heart of the world, and Syria is the heart of the Middle East," Assad said. "If the situation in Syria and Iraq isn't good, the whole region will become unstable, and the entire world will pay for that."