Damascus, Syria — Syrian President Bashar Assad ordered the creation of a judicial committee Saturday to investigate the murder of a former Lebanese prime minister, as Damascus continued its scramble to ease intense and growing international pressure.
The U.N. investigation into the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has linked top Syrian and Lebanese security officials to the killing and said that Damascus had been uncooperative in the probe.
Syria also said Saturday that the offices of Islamic Jihad, one of a number of militant anti-Israeli groups that formerly operated out of Damascus, had been closed years ago.
On Friday, the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia called for Syria to shut the Islamic Jihad office.
An unidentified Syrian Foreign Ministry official was quoted by SANA, the official news agency, as saying that Islamic Jihad's military activities were planned from the Palestinian territories and not in Syria. The group claimed responsibility for a bombing on Wednesday that killed five Israelis.
By issuing a decree to set up the special judicial committee to probe the bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others in Beirut, Assad appeared to be responding to chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis's call for the Syrians to conduct their own investigation to "fill in the gaps" about who orchestrated the terrorist act.