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U.N. report points finger at Syria

Friday, March 25, 2005 Posted: 1:06 AM EST (0606 GMT)

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- A fact-finding team investigating last month's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has blamed Syria's government for the political tension that preceded the killing, according to a U.N. report released Thursday.

The government of Syria "interfered" with governance in Lebanon in a heavy-handed way that was "the primary reason for the political polarization that ensued."

"It is obvious that this atmosphere provided the backdrop for the assassination of Mr. Hariri," the report says.

The investigative team was assembled by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to look into "the causes, circumstances and consequences of the assassination," which resulted in large-scale demonstrations against Syria's troop presence in Lebanon and the resignation of Prime Minister Omar Karami's pro-Syrian government.

The massive bomb blast along Beirut's waterfront killed 20 people and wounded more than 100.

A spokesman for Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said Annan called the president and outlined the report's contents. Lahoud urged Annan "to take appropriate measures to unveil the truth as soon as possible," the spokesman said.

Lebanese parliament member Ghattas Khoury, a member of Hariri's party, said he agreed with the report's conclusions.

"I think the report is fair. It coincides with the view of the opposition that security agencies were completely negligent. ... up to the level of direct involvement or even probably conspiracy," he told CNN.

"There is a need to have foreign international investigation ... to clear up the truth about who was behind the assassination," he added.

Hariri was the chief opposition figure in Lebanon to push for the exit of Syrian troops and intelligence officers from his country following last year's passage of U.N. Resolution 1559, which called for a full withdrawal.

Last week, Syria began moving its 14,000 troops to the Bekaa Valley near the border with Lebanon and promised to bring all the troops and intelligence officials across the border into Syria as soon as possible.

According to the report, the specific causes for the assassination will not be known until after the killers are brought to justice.

"However, it is clear that the assassination took place in a political and security context marked by an acute polarization around the Syrian influence in Lebanon and a failure of the Lebanese state to provide adequate protection for its citizens," investigators concluded.

The report calls Lebanon's security services "negligent," and accuses them of contributing to the "propagation of a culture of intimidation and impunity."

Protection must be beefed up to boost the nation's security and credibility, it says.