Beirut & Vienna - The UN completed the hearings of the 5 Syrian intelligence officials over the murder of former Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The hearings which took place behind closed doors between Monday and Wednesday.
"It's finished for the whole session," Syria's Ambassador in Austria Sahwan Ghanem said, adding: "I hope there will be nothing more until December 15," when the UN commission into Hariri's murder, led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, is expected to hand in its final report.
A Syrian diplomatic source confirmed the three men heard by the commission included Abdelkarim Abbas, the head of the Palestinian affairs department, and communications chief Zaher Yussef. The third witness was retired colonel Samih Al Kashaani, a deputy of Syria's former intelligence chief in Lebanon, Rustom Ghazaleh, despite reports that he would not be present at the hearings.
Another diplomatic source said, the third man at the hearings was probably Hussam Taher Hussam, a Syrian living in Lebanon seen as a key figure in the UN investigation who on November 28 said he was forced to testify under duress to the commission.
On Syrian public television, Hussam retracted his testimony in which he said the decision to kill Hariri was taken in September 2004 during a meeting between Assaf Chawkat, the head of Syrian intelligence and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law, Maher Assad, the president's brother and head of presidential security, and Lebanese General Jamil al-Sayyed, former internal security chief who was arrested in September at Mr Mehlis' request.
This retraction "completely weakens" the charges brought by the Mehlis commission against the Syrian officials, Damascus said, demanding that the October 20 interim report to the United Nations be revised.
On the other hand Chief investigator Detlev Mehlis has insisted that Hussam is one of 500 witnesses that were interviewed and the fact that he recanted his testimony does not change anything. Mehlis did indicate that he might ask the Syrian authorities to send Hussam to Vienna for further questioning by the UN investigators.
News reports quoted diplomatic sources in Beirut as saying that the former director of the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Roustom Ghazaleh, and his assistant, Jamea Jamea were interviewed on Monday and returned back with their lawyers to Damascus the same day.
Sources in Beirut quoted Mehlis as saying he will ask the Syrian authorities in Damascus to detain both suspects "Roustom Ghazaleh, and his assistant, Jamea Jamea." Four Lebanese generals (who were the allies of the Syrian generals have been charged with murder) are in jail pending trial by an international court. No news yet on the possible detention of any of the 3 officials that were interviewed on Wednesday.
An interim report in October by UN's Chief investigator Detlev Mehlis, suggested the 14 February bombing that killed al-Hariri and 22 other people was planned by top Syrian intelligence officials in Damascus and their Lebanese allies.
On Mehlis's recommendation, Lebanon has charged four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals with murder.
The UN probe team has so far quizzed more than 500 people and Mehlis says his team might ask for more Syrian officials to be interviewed.
Hariri's killing triggered mass anti-Syrian protests in Lebanon, forcing Damascus to withdraw its troops out of Lebanon after a 29-year of occupation.
Picture: Syria's ambassador to Austria H.E. Sahwan Ghanem
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Source: Ya Libnan, Agencies