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Mehlis Report 'Is Deeply Troubling,' Rice Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2005 – A U. N. investigative report that points to Syrian complicity in the murder of a former senior Lebanese official "is deeply troubling," the United States' top diplomat said Oct. 21.

That report, prepared by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis and released Oct. 20, cites "implications that Syrian officials were involved in the assassination of Rafik Hariri," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted.

Hariri was a former Lebanese premier who'd criticized Syrian involvement in Lebanon's affairs. Bowing to international pressure, the Syrians recently removed their military and intelligence services from Lebanese territory.

Rice said the report also indicates that Syrian government officials were "obstructing the efforts" of the U.N. investigation into Hariri's death.

Information contained in the Mehlis report will cause the international community "to seriously consider how it will demand accountability" from the Syrian government, Rice predicted, possibly in the form of U.N. sanctions.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw agreed with Rice, calling the Mehlis report "very disturbing."

The report offers "further evidence of the extraordinary view that the Syrian elites have held" about Lebanese sovereignty, Straw said. The Syrians, he added, appear to regard Lebanon "as a subordinate territory and not as an independent state."

The Hariri affair is "an unpleasant story," Straw said, which "the international community is going to take very seriously indeed."

President Bush criticized the Syrian government for its meddling in Lebanon. "It's very important for Syria to understand that the free world respects Lebanese democracy and expects Syria to honor that democracy," he said.

The United States also has criticized Syria's suspected role of hosting insurgents who routinely cross the border into Iraq to battle U.S. and coalition forces. In his speech, Bush accused the Syrians of shipping suicide bombers into Iraq. "We expect Syria to be a good neighbor to Iraq," the president said.

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