The move comes as the UN Security Council prepares to vote on Monday on a strongly worded resolution threatening Syria with economic sanctions over the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri

 

In an apparent effort to head off the resolution, Syria announced on Saturday that it was launching its own investigation into the al-Hariri killing.

The inquiry, ordered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, will question Syrian civilians and military personnel and cooperate with a UN inquiry that has implicated senior Syrian officials in the 14 February assassination, officials said.


Earlier the Syrian deputy foreign minister held talks with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah regarding Riyadh's support for the Syrian position.


"King Abdullah confirmed the kingdom stands by Syria's side against the pressures it is being subjected to by some international sides," Syria's state SANA news agency said.

It said al-Mualem told King Abdullah that Syria was willing to cooperate with the UN team investigating al-Hariri's murder, and that he would deliver similar messages to other Gulf states.

Arab support

On Friday the Syrian president discussed the issue with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a surprise visit by the Egyptian leader to Damascus.

 

President al-Assad has ordered
an inquiry into the al-Hariri killing 

Egypt, which along with Saudi Arabia is a key US ally and power negotiator in the region, says it wants to defuse tension between Syria and the United States.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara left for New York on Sunday. He will meet UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other foreign ministers, SANA said.

At a meeting of the Security Council last week, Detlev Mehlis, the head of the UN investigation into the al Hariri killing, urged Syria to set up its own inquiry and to cooperate fully with international investigators.

Syria denies involvement and dismisses Mehlis's report as politicised, but remains under intense international pressure.

The United States and France say they are confident that Monday's meeting will adopt a tough Security Council resolution against Syria, though Russia and China still have misgivings.

Threat of economic sanctions

The draft threatens economic sanctions against Syria if it does not cooperate fully with the UN investigation and imposes a travel ban and freeze on overseas assets of suspects.

Released earlier this month, the UN report found the decision to kill al-Hariri "could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials" colluding with Lebanese officials.

"Syria is innocent and is ready to pursue (legally) any Syrian whose involvement in this crime is proven in an irrefutable manner and to transfer them to a tribunal"

Mohammad al-Ghafari,
Syrian Justice Minister
 

It named senior Syrian security officials including Assad's brother and brother-in-law and their Lebanese allies as possible suspects in the truck bombing that killed al-Hariri and 22 others.

Reaffirming Damascus' pledges to work with the international community to bring the murderers of al-Hariri to justice, Justice Minister Mohammed Ghafari said it was in Syria's own interest that the truth was uncovered.

Syrian Justice Minister Mohammad al-Ghafari told SANA Syria would investigate Syrians suspected of involvement and try any who were proven with conclusive evidence to have had a role.


"Syria is innocent and is ready to pursue (legally) any Syrian whose involvement in this crime is proven in an irrefutable manner and to transfer them to a tribunal," he told the government daily Tishrin.