Co-sponsored by Britain and circulated late on Tuesday, the draft demands the arrest of any Syrian national suspected of involvement in the assassination, and greater leeway for UN investigators.
  
The draft was worked out by the US and French ambassadors to the UN - John Bolton and Jean-Marc de la Sabliere - after the Security Council heard a briefing by UN chief investigator Detlev Mehlis on his report implicating senior Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the 14 February assassination.

Tough actions
  
The draft resolution called on Damascus to detain "Syrian officials or individuals" the UN investigation considered suspects in the car bombing "and make them fully and unconditionally available to the commission".

It demanded that the Mehlis commission be allowed "to interview Syrian officials or other individuals that the commission deems relevant to the inquiry outside Syria and/or outside the presence of any other Syrian official if the commission so requests".

"Syria and its leaders must be held accountable for their continuing support for terrorism"

US President George Bush

The text stipulated that to ensure the Mehlis panel's effectiveness it must have full cooperation from Syrian authorities, including full access to all information and evidence in their possession as well as freedom of movement throughout Syrian territory.

The commission must also have "the authority to collect any additional information and evidence ... pertaining to this terrorist act, as well as to interview all officials and other persons" in Syria, it said.
  
The draft called for sanctions against individuals designated, or who might be designated in the future, by the panel as suspects in the murder.

The sanctions include a travel ban and a freeze of assets.

Economic sanctions

It also said Syria must stop directly or indirectly meddling in Lebanese domestic affairs, refrain from any attempts to destabilise Lebanon and respect its neighbour's sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence.
  
A paragraph in the draft contained an implied threat of economic sanctions against Damascus, warning that it would consider "further measures pursuant to article 41 of the [UN] charter, if needed, to ensure compliance by Syria".

Bashar al-Assad has warned of
the consequences of sanctions 

The Security Council is expected to formally discuss Syria at a meeting early next week. Diplomats hope to arrive at a final draft resolution by then.

"It seems that the UN Security Council will discuss the draft resolution that aims at renewing pressures on Syria to fully and transparently cooperate with the UN international and independent investigation team," Fawaz Gargis, US foreign policy expert told Aljazeera.

"The draft resolution will be approved on Monday on the ministerial level," he added.

Gargis believed the main strategy of the resolution was to press the Syrian leadership to cooperate with the UN inquiry team.

"But, if the US and the international community meant by cooperation that Syria should hand over its main security chiefs for investigation, I think Damascus would refuse." He said.

Mehlis said his team now had until 15 December to pursue its work in line with an extension request made by the Lebanese government and approved by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Denial

Damascus has denied any role in the car bombing and has rejected the UN investigation as politically biased.

"We are ready to carry out this investigation"

Riad Daudi, Syrian Foreign Ministry's legal adviser

Syria, however, pledged to launch its own inquiry into the murder as required by Mehlis to deal with unanswered questions.

"I will tell you that Detlev Mehlis wants a special Syrian inquiry. We are ready to carry out this investigation," Syrian Foreign Ministry legal adviser Riad Daudi told Aljazeera on Tuesday.

"But Mr Mehlis, who has never made this kind of request before, must tell us exactly what kind of inquiry he wants us to do," he said.

Threats

Mehlis also told the UN Security Council that his commission "has received a number of threats which were deemed, in the assessment of our security personnel, to be credible".

Mehlis has said his team has
received a number of threats

He said security for its members was a priority, noting that since the inquiry commission began its work, exceptional security measures had been taken to protect it with the help of Lebanese security forces.

"However it should be noted that despite all the precautionary measures, the level of risk which was already high will increase further, particularly after the issuance of the report," Mehlis added.

He called for stepped-up security for his team of 30 investigators from 17 countries.

Reactions

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has warned that any pressure brought to bear on Syria - UN sanctions, for example - "will have big, serious repercussions on the already tense situation which our region goes through".

US President George Bush has accused Damascus of destabilising Lebanon and backing terrorists and said the United Nations must hold Damascus accountable. 
  

"Russia will do everything necessary to stop attempts to introduce sanctions against Syria"

Mikhail Kalmynin, spokesman, Russian Foreign Ministry

"Syria and its leaders must be held accountable for their continuing support for terrorism, including any involvement in the murder of prime minister Hariri," he said in a speech at Bolling Air Force Base.

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged "balanced action" from the world community towards Syria "so as not to allow new flashpoints of tension in the region".

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman was also quoted as saying on Wednesday that Moscow would do all it took to block any attempt to slap economic sanctions on Damascus

"Russia will do everything necessary to stop attempts to introduce sanctions against Syria," spokesman Mikhail Kalmynin told Interfax news agency and other Russian media on the sidelines of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's trip to Israel.