Arabs largely silent on UN resolution against Syria

Arab states have remained largely silent after a stern UN resolution demanding Syrian cooperation in the Rafik Hariri assassination inquiry. There have been no street protests similar to those preceding the Iraq war, no Arab leaders coming together for Syria's defense and little diplomatic activity to save a fellow Arab country. The lack of an official condemnation is a sign that Arab governments want Syria to work with the UN - even if that could mean prosecution of top figures in Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. It also suggests they don't want to risk a broader Arab confrontation with the West by standing beside Syria. Incensed over the silence, Syria's state-run Al-Thawra newspaper warned in a stinging editorial Wednesday that Arabs are next in line for similar action. "Arabs, you are not spectators in the Middle Eastern hall where America is presenting this bloody show nor are you the referee in this savage game," columnist Khaled al-Ashhab wrote. "You are the chorus that utters a word, makes a movement or remains silent." He suggested some governments were staying silent to curry favor with the United States. "The little that some of you might receive now, you will pay for tomorrow in blood," al-Ashhab wrote. The UN resolution, passed unanimously by the Security Council on Monday, lays the groundwork for possible future sanctions against Syria if it does not cooperate with the UN investigation into the February 14 Beirut bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others. It came shortly after a report by UN investigator Detlev Mehlis concluded it was unlikely Hariri could have been killed without senior Syrian approval. Syria dominated Lebanon for 29 years, its control crumbling after it was forced to withdraw its military in April under international pressure, fueled in part by Hariri's slaying. Syria has insisted it is innocent of the assassination and says it is the target of a Western plot that, after Saddam Hussein's fall in Iraq, now aims to remove Assad's regime because of its staunchly anti-Israel stand. But Arab states see it differently, said Jamil Nimri, a prominent Jordanian columnist. "This is not a US-Syrian conflict, and the issue here is not whether Arabs should be with Syria and against the United States," said Nimri. "This is an internal Arab issue and it centers around Hariri's assassination and Mehlis' investigation," he added. Even Amr Moussa, head of the Cairo-based Arab League, which usually lends its backing to any Arab leader in trouble, refused to respond to the resolution, saying "There's no need to comment on it by welcoming it or giving other details about it." So far, the Arab message to Syria has been to come clean on the Hariri murder and to stop stonewalling the investigation if it wants a helping hand. Egypt has been working behind the scenes to convince Assad to cooperate, fearing that otherwise the United States will continue hiking up the pressure on Damascus and destabilize the regime, according to Egyptian diplomatic officials in Cairo. At the same time, Egypt, a top US ally in the Middle East, is urging Washington not to push too hard, saying that if Assad is forced out of power an Islamic fundamentalist regime could move in, the officials said. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held talks with Assad last week, and on Tuesday he spoke with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who has also been pressing Assad to cooperate. Egypt's biggest government daily, Al-Ahram, said Arab nations can't rally behind Syria if it is seen as resisting UN demands. "We hope Syria will cooperate completely with the investigation, which would be a first step that would help Arab nations to later provide Syria with a support network against any attempt against it," the paper said. "But the starting point before any talk of Arab support is total Syrian cooperation with the international investigation," it added.