DAMASCUS (AP) - Syria called for an emergency Arab League summit in a bid to rally regional support in the face of a stern, unanimously adopted UN Security Council resolution demanding greater cooperation from Damascus in the probe of the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister.
But Arab diplomats, already hedging against a lack of broad support for a summit of all 22 members, suggested a smaller gathering of representatives from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Lebanon and Egypt might be organized should others decline out of concern about harming ties to the UN resolution's prime sponsors the US, France and Britain.
The three sponsors, to win unanimous approval, were forced to drop a reference to punishing sanctions should Syria not cooperate. Veto-holding members China and Russia refused to accept the language.
Speaking at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, the diplomats said Secretary-General Amr Moussa had sent a special envoy to Gulf countries informing them of the Syrian request. The diplomats, who were not authorized to speak for publication, said Syria hoped for the meeting after Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim religious holiday that concludes the Ramadan month of fasting, either Wednesday or Thursday.
Anti-Syrian Lebanese political leader Walid Jumblatt, meanwhile, warned that Damascus could face chaos and instability like Iraq should President Bashar Assad fail to cooperate with the UN probe into the February 14 assassination of Minister Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister who was killed along with 20 other people in a bombing on a Beirut street.
"If (he) acts like Saddam did, yes, we are heading to a situation similar to what happened in Iraq," Jumblatt said in an interview with the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite television channel late Sunday. "But if he acts in order to preserve Syria's national unity and Syria's interest before (serving) the brother-in-law, a brother or anyone, he can save Syria." Jumblatt was referring to Assad's brother, Maher Assad, and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, the chief of military intelligence, whose names were listed in an initial report submitted by UN investigator Detlev Mehlis on October 28.
The Syrian leader appears to be in an increasingly isolated and weakened position since the initial findings of the probe linked his security services and those in Lebanon, where Damascus held dominion until last April, to the Hariri murder. Critics of the drive to further isolate Assad charge the country could fall into the hands of a radical Islamic regime or other type of leadership far more hostile to the West and Israel.
Monday's vote at the Security Council requires Syria to detain anyone the UN investigators consider a suspect and allow investigators to determine the location and conditions for questioning. It would freeze assets and impose a travel ban on suspects named by the investigative commission.
Ayman Abdel-Nour, an analyst and a member of the ruling Baath party, said the resolution was worrying because it stressed that Syria was not cooperating and talked about future action.
"The Syrian regime and Syrian diplomacy should change the way they're dealing with this issue," said Abdel-Nour. "They should reach out positively, and not only to our friends, to present facts in a better way." The Syrian media maintained the drumbeat in advance of the UN vote Monday, with the English-language Syria Times,/i> saying the resolution was "openly politicized" and too heavily influenced by the US.
"It's immoral and totally unacceptable that the will of the (international) community remains captive to a unilateral diktat and ... accepts tyranny and hegemony," the paper said.
Tishrin, another government newspaper, criticized the UN document as "tough and unbalanced" and urged action that was more "balanced and objective" and "not be a clear translation of the US administration's will." Al-Thawra daily said the US wants Syria to "be stripped of its skin, abandon its regional and national role and be turned into a marginal state that carries out orders," the paper said.
In Lebanon, pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud described Hariri's assassination as "a big conspiracy" aimed at undermining Lebanon, including the policy of resisting US-led efforts to promote a peace settlement that Beirut considers favoring Israel's interests.