Syria issues arrest warrants over Hariri probe: General

Warrants are sure to strike a blow to ties between Damascus and Lebanese PM.

Beirut: 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.

Sayyed did not specify which Lebanese officials were wanted, but in his initial complaint he named the head of Lebanon`s police, Ashraf Rifi, deputy Marwan Hamadeh, and 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 today, 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).