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Syria orders probe of Hariri killing

President calls for judicial panel

DAMASCUS, Syria -- President Bashar Assad of Syria issued an order yesterday for a special committee to investigate any Syrian involvement in the assassination of a former prime minister in neighboring Lebanon, the state news agency said.

The move was made as the UN Security Council considers a UN investigator's report that implicated top Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the Feb. 14 killing of Rafik Hariri and accused Assad's regime of not cooperating with the probe. Syria sharply disputed the report's findings, but said it would cooperate in the UN investigation, which has been extended until Dec. 15.

Assad ordered the establishment of ''a special judicial committee headed by the prosecutor-general and comprising the military prosecutor and a judge to be named by the justice minister," the official SANA news agency said.

The panel will ''question Syrian civilians and military personnel on all matters relating to the UN investigation commission's mission," SANA said.

On Tuesday, chief UN investigator Detlev Mehlis urged Syria to conduct its own investigation into the killing to help ''fill in the gaps" over the coming weeks about who orchestrated the assassination.

Assad's decree said the special committee will cooperate with Mehlis's investigation and with Lebanese judicial authorities, who have been aiding the UN probe and also have charged four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals in connection with Hariri's killing.

The United States, France, and Britain are promoting a Security Council resolution to be discussed tomorrow that would threaten tough sanctions against Syria if it failed to cooperate with the UN inquiry. Russia, another permanent Security Council member with power to veto resolutions, expressed opposition to imposing sanctions on Syria.

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