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      Peres, Shteinitz Agree: Assad Must Go

      Labor and Likud party ministers said Bashar Assad cannot remain as Syrian president following a U.N. report implicating Assad's regime in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
      By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
      First Publish: 10/21/2005, 11:39 AM / Last Update: 10/21/2005, 11:47 AM

      Vice Premier Shimon Peres, leader of the Labor party, and Yuval Shteinitz (Likud), chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said the Assad regime must change. Peres said that Israel should stay on the sidelines and let the United States and France take the lead in changing the Assad regime.

      Arab MK Talab el-Sana accused the United States of planning the report as an excuse to involve itself in Syrian affairs. El-Sana is calling upon the Arab League to help Assad (pictured above) and oppose the findings of the U.N. report.

      The report did not blame Assad for the murder but pointed out that the assassination was a result of cooperation by Assad's security officials. His brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, forced one person to tape an announcement taking responsibility for the murder 15 days before the assassination, according to the United Nations report issued Thursday night.

      Shteinitz said it is in Israel's interest that Assad be ousted. "I have a dispute with some of the people in the security establishment. It is not just an American interest but a clear Israeli interest to end the Assad dynasty and replace Bashar Assad," he said. Several security officials are concerned that Israel might suffer attacks from Hezbollah terrorists if it takes an active role in opposing Assad.

      Former intelligence director Ephraim Halevy told Israel Radio he is sure that the assassination was an "extensive and coordinated operation that was planned for many months [and] many people from the Syrian elite were involved."

      Terrorists killed Hariri and 20 others on February 14 in an explosive attack in Beirut. Syrian-backed Lebanese officials and Syria rejected the 53-page U.N. report, which Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said was a part of campaign directed against him. Two anti-Syrian members of the Lebanese parliament demanded Lahoud's resignation.

      Hariri was a leader against Syrian domination of Lebanon. The report concluded that the plot to kill him took months of preparation. It presented evidence against four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals arrested and charged earlier in connection with Hariri's killing.

      One witness told investigators that one of the four, Gen. Mustapha Hamdan, commander of the Republican Guard Brigade, accused Hariri of being pro-Israeli. "We are going to send him on a trip -- bye, bye Hariri," according to the U.N. report.

      "The report is far from the truth. It was not professional and will not arrive at the truth but will be part of a deception and a great tension in this region," Syria's information minister, Mahdi Dakhl-Allah told Al Jazeera television.

      American Ambassador John Bolton said that the Bush administration will decide in a few days how to react but already has "various contingencies." Sanctions are expected when the UN Security Council discusses the report on Tuesday.