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UN invited to Syria in Hariri probe
(AP )
Updated: 2005-09-04 10:07

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Under intense pressure to cooperate with a U.N. probe, Syria on Saturday invited the chief U.N. envoy investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri to visit Damascus and meet with Syrian authorities.

But in a move sure to turn the heat up against Syria, a Lebanese judge accused four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals of carrying out the Feb. 14 Beirut bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others. The judge ordered the generals be held in police custody until a trial begins to hear the official charges against them.

The generals ran this country's pro-Syrian security forces when Hariri was killed and were taken in for questioning Tuesday after a top United Nations investigator alleged they may played a role in Hariri's murder.

A fifth Lebanese suspect identified by the U.N. team, former pro-Syrian lawmaker Nasser Qandil, was questioned and released.

Many Lebanese blamed Syria and its Lebanese allies of planning Hariri's murder, which sparked massive protests, forced Syria to end its 29-year military presence here and saw Lebanon's pro-Damascus government toppled.

Despite denials by Syria and its Lebanese allies of any involvement in the killing, Damascus has been accused of failing to cooperate with a U.N. investigation team headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who has said he is willing to meet Syrian officials in their country.

But in a terse statement released by its state-run news agency, Syria on Saturday invited Mehlis to visit Damascus and meet Syrian officials on Monday or Tuesday, although it was not immediately clear which officials he would meet.

A Syrian Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said Mehlis was unavailable on either of those days and would visit on Sept. 10 instead.

Faisal Mekdad, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, invited Mehlis "in the framework of Syria's readiness to cooperate with the international investigation."
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