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Syrians edgy over UN report

Syrians remained on edge Tuesday as the UN Security Council met to review a second UN report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Since the release of the first interim report in October, the government has tried to debunk the international investigation. Allegations that it is a political ploy to destabilize Syria and the region have reverberated in the streets, boosting nationalist sentiment.

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"The report is predetermined," said Ossama Mosuli, a grocery store owner. "This is all fabricated."

The first report found that the assassination could not have happened without the knowledge of top officials. On Oct. 31, a Security Council resolution threatened "further action" if Syria did not cooperate with the investigation.

The second report said there was new evidence to support earlier findings and that new leads were being investigated.

Since October, tents like those of Lebanon's Cedar Revolution have been pitched in Damascus, though they are sparsely populated with mostly young students. Syrian flags wave from office buildings and homes.

"Part of the strategy of the government was ... to try to cooperate as much as they can so they cannot be accused of noncooperation," said Marwan Kabalan, a professor at Damascus University. "They have also tried to explore the gaps in the report by casting doubts on witnesses."

Two weeks ago, the Syrian Judicial Committee presented Syrian witness Hussam Taher Hussam on TV, where he alleged that his testimony had been coerced by Lebanese officials. The second report responded by saying that Hussam had been "manipulated by the Syrian authorities."

Many Syrians saw Hussam's testimony as absolving them, and the agreement by the government to send officials to Vienna for questioning as easing tensions. "But things might change," says Mr. Kabalan. "Because of the explosion that killed [Lebanese journalist Gebran] Tueni, people are concerned that this might be used as a pretext to impose sanctions. People are worried where this will take us."