Kofi Annan, the United Nations chief, picked Serge Brammertz, a deputy prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, to replace Detlev Mehlis, UN officials and diplomats said on Wednesday.

German prosecutor Mehlis had concluded that high-ranking Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials played a role in al-Hariri's 14 February slaying in a car bombing that also killed 22 others.

UN diplomats said Brammertz had accepted Annan's offer to take the job and that the world body was waiting for Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief ICC prosecutor, to write a letter
formally releasing him.

The officials spoke anonymously on Wednesday because his appointment had not yet been made public.

Death threat

Marie Okabe, a UN spokeswoman, said Annan had completed the selection process and would announce his choice on 11 January.

"He is satisfied there will be continuity in the leadership of the inquiry," she said.

Detlev Mehlis received several
death threats during his tenure

Christian Palme, an ICC prosecution spokesman, confirmed that Brammertz, who oversees the court's investigations division and is one of its most senior officials, had been nominated but said he wanted time over the holidays to decide whether to accept.

Also on Wednesday, a newspaper reported that a pro-Syrian group that claimed responsibility for killing a Lebanese editor threatened to kill the next head of the al-Hariri inquiry.

The statement added that Mehlis was lucky to escape death.

"Mehlis was able to slip out of our hands a moment before it was too late when he chose to resign because he understood the message and realised that if he did not do that, his end would be wretched like the end of all traitors who betray Arabs and Islam," the newspaper cited the statement as saying.

Syrian demands

Meanwhile, Syria said on Wednesday that it wanted to lay fresh ground rules for co-operation with the new chief investigator.

"We want to ... identify the meaning of co-operation ... and what is required before it can be said that Syria has co-operated fully and unconditionally with the international committee"

Farouq al-Shara, 
Syrian foreign minister

Farouq al-Shara, the Syrian foreign minister, said: "We want to agree on a protocol for co-operation to identify the meaning of co-operation ... and what is required before it can be said that Syria has co-operated fully and unconditionally with the international committee."

But Washington said Syria's co-operation was "not negotiable".

Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, said: "It's up to the [UN] special investigator to determine what he wants and what he needs, not up to the Syrians."

Ereli said that UN resolution 1636 "is not negotiable", adding: "We don't think that it needs much more clarification than what is in 1636, which says 'full and complete'.

"And it says that it will be the UN special investigator who will determine what he needs and that it is up to Syria to give it to him." 

Mehlis report

The resolution ordered Syria in October to co-operate fully with the inquiry or face unspecified consequences, after Mehlis said it was not doing enough. 

Rafiq al-Hariri and 22 others were
killed in a 14 February bomb blast
Damascus requested a similar agreement in November from Mehlis as a precursor to allowing his team to question six Syrian officials.

Mehlis rejected such an agreement at the time but Damascus eventually allowed five of the officials to be questioned at UN offices in Vienna. Mehlis later identified those officials as suspects in the assassination. 

In two preliminary reports presented to the Security Council, Mehlis implicated top Syrian officials in al-Hariri's assassination. Syria has denied any involvement in the killing. 

Mehlis met top Lebanese judicial officials in Beirut on Wednesday to discuss the inquiry's progress, judicial sources said.