Sun, 22 Jan 2006 12:00 CST
Deflecting increasing criticism for his administration's role in the assassination of former Lebaneese prime minister Rafik Hariri, Syrian President Bashar Assad claimed Saturday that Israel was responsible for the death of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yassir Arafat.
"Among the many assassinations that Israel has carried out in a systemic and organized manner, the most dangerous one was the assassination of Arafat," Assad said, addressing a conference of Arab lawyers.
Assad, speaking in Damascus, added that "this was done secretly, under the watching eyes of the world. But no country responded - as if nothing had happened at all."
The president, facing pressure from the United states and Europe, said that he fully supported the formation of an international investigation charged with examining the circumstances surrounding Arafat's death, similar to the committee currently charged with investigating Hariri's assassination.
Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem characterized Assad's comments as "ridiculous," and said that -more than anything else - they showed the level of his distress.
In addition, the officials said that Israel has on a number of occasions called on the Palestinians to make public the Arafat medical file.
Assad also referred to the Hariri investigation more directly, implying that he would not accept the UN's request to interview him about his or his senior officials' alleged involvement in the massive bombing that killed the Lebanese politician.
"The issue of national sovereignty is more important than security council decisions," he said.