Syria has formally assured the United Nations for the first time that it will complete a total withdrawal of its troops from Lebanon before its parliamentary elections in spring, denying that President Assad made physical elimination threats to ex-Premier Hariri before his assassination.
Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al Sharaa made the assurance in a letter forwarded to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the U.N. Security Council, which has started a debate on the formation of an international commission of inquiry to conduct a fuller investigation into Hariri's Feb. 14 assassination.
Sharaa's letter was sharply critical of a report recently submitted by a U.N. fact-finding mission about its findings during a month-long probe in Beirut, which accused Damascus for creating tensions that led to Hariri's killing.
Sharaa said in the letter that internal peace in Lebanon "enabled Syria automatically to reduce its forces in Lebanon from 40,000 to 10,000 troops" in recent years. "In addition, it will carry out a complete withdrawal of those troops before the coming elections in Lebanon," he said.