Friday, September 30, 2005

Middle East news: Bush administration to examine new measures against Syria

President Bush and his top aides are weighing new steps against Syria, according to U.S. officials involved in Middle East policy.

Bush's national security team is due to meet Saturday to review policy toward Syria, the officials said. Options range from tougher economic sanctions to limited military action. One official involved in the deliberations said military action is unlikely for now.

The meeting comes as a United Nations investigator nears completion of a report that's expected to provide evidence that Syrian security agencies were involved in the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

...The investigator, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, is drawing on debriefings from one or more defectors from the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The defectors have provided evidence of Syrian government complicity in Hariri's death, according to two U.S. officials.

The options on the table for Saturday's high-level White House meeting include imposing more sanctions on Syria, authorized under the 2003 Syria Accountability Act; reaching out to Syrian opposition groups; and taking limited military action, such as the use of U.S. special forces, to stop the flow of insurgents, according to an official involved in the
deliberations.

The Bush administration, he said, calculates that the Mehlis investigation is putting significant pressure on Assad and is helping to build an international consensus to isolate Syria. "We don't want to blow that," he said, in explaining why military action isn't likely now.

Another official said that U.S. ally Israel also is counseling restraint, arguing that any successor to Assad, a member of Syria's Alawite minority, would likely be worse - perhaps even ushering in a militantly Islamic regime...

BEIRUT: The most recent investigations into the attempted assassination of journalist May Chidiac have revealed three witnesses who allegedly saw a suspicious looking person at the scene of the explosion.

...According to well-informed sources, investigators have been able to determine the location of the bomb in Chidiac's Range Rover. The device was placed on the underside of the car between two steel rails. The blast wounded Chidiac's left leg and left arm so severely that both had to be amputated, but, according to the sources, Chidiac's right leg, which was on the gas pedal, and her right hand, which was on the gear stick as she was shifting into the drive position, remained unharmed. Further investigations suggest the car was reversing backward as the blast occurred.

Sources also say the rest of Chidiac's body was unharmed due to the right rail on the underbody, two layers of plates covering the car from below and the two rails which support the driver's seat. The sources say that whoever planted the bomb would have needed less than two minutes to plant the bomb. The suspect is believed to have watched Chidiac get into her car and then detonated the bomb by remote control.

...As for Chidiac's health, sources at Hotel Dieu hospital said Chidiac's condition is improving but will be taken back into the Intensive Care Unit. Head of the ICU, Dr. Yazbek, said: "May could not come out of ICU until after next week."