Syria has issued arrest warrants against Lebanese and foreign officials over false testimony given in the probe into the assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, a general held over the killing said.
Jamil Sayyed, the former head of Lebanon's security services, said the top investigating judge in Damascus had issued 33 warrants "against judges, security officers, politicians, journalists and other Lebanese, Arab and foreign officials and individuals".
Among those named in the warrants is Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor who led the early stages of the UN investigation into Hariri's 2005 assassination in a massive bombing, he said in a weekend statement. Mr Sayyed did not specify which Lebanese officials were wanted, but in his initial complaint he named the head of Lebanon's police, Ashraf Rifi, the deputy Marwan Hamadeh, and a top prosecutor Saeed Mirza.
The warrants are sure to strike a blow to relations between Damascus and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the slain leader, who has sought in the past year to mend fences with Syria, observers said. They also come with tensions high in the country over unconfirmed reports the UN tribunal is set to indict members of Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, in connection with Hariri's murder.
"This is a shocking development in terms of relations between the prime minister and the Syrian leadership," Oqab Sakr, a deputy in Hariri's pro-Western parliamentary majority, said, Samir al Jisr, another deputy, said the warrants were clearly an attempt to derail impending indictments by the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). "By doing this, the Syrians are trying to pressure the government to change its position on the STL," Mr al Jisr said. "But we cannot back down on the tribunal, even if we wanted to."
Mr Rifi said the arrest warrants could only be served on Syrian territory. "Interpol will not acknowledge such warrants," he said.
Mr Sayyed in his complaint alleged the UN probe was based on fabricated testimony aimed at implicating Syria and its supporters in Lebanon in Hariri's killing. Damascus has consistently denied any involvement in the assassination and last month, is a stunning about-turn, the prime minister Saad Hariri said he had been wrong to point the finger at Syria.
Sayyed was one of four security generals who served four years in prison on suspicion of involvement with the murder. All four were released last year for lack of evidence.