DAMASCUS, Syria -- Arab states are quietly pressing Syria to cooperate with an inquiry into the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, a sign that they support a stern UN warning to Damascus and that they want to avoid a confrontation with the West.
The UN resolution this week, which paves the way for sanctions against Syria if it does not go along with the probe, brought near silence from the region's governments. There have been no street protests, and no Arab leaders have come together publicly in Syria's defense.
But Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Gulf nations have launched behind-the-scenes diplomacy, apparently to send the message that Syria must stop stonewalling, even if that could mean prosecution of top figures in President Bashar Assad's regime over Hariri's slaying.
''We are talking about a decision by a legitimate international body . . . and this decision has to be respected by all," Kuwait's foreign minister, Sheik Mohammed Al Sabah, said Tuesday, according to the state-owned Kuwait News Agency.
Syria's Al-Thawra newspaper issued a rebuke. ''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," wrote columnist Khaled al- Ashhab. ''You are the chorus that utters a word, makes a movement, or remains silent."
He suggested that some governments had been silent to curry favor with the United States. ''The little that some of you might receive now, you will pay for tomorrow in blood," Ashhab wrote.
Like other Syrian papers, Al-Thawra reflects government thinking.
The resolution, passed unanimously by the Security Council on Monday, lays the groundwork for sanctions against Syria if it does not cooperate with the UN inquiry into the bombing Feb. 14 in Beirut that killed Hariri and 20 others.
The vote followed a report by a UN investigator, Detlev Mehlis, that concluded it was unlikely that Hariri could have been killed without senior Syrian approval. Syria dominated Lebanon for 29 years, but it was forced to withdraw its military in April under international pressure fueled in part by Hariri's slaying.
While opposing sanctions on Syria, Algeria, the only Arab nation on the Security Council, voted for the resolution. Its foreign minister, Mohamed Bedjaoui, told the council that he hoped Damascus would be part of the solution.
Egypt has tried to persuade Assad to cooperate, fearing that otherwise Washington will increase pressure on Damascus and destabilize Assad's regime, according to diplomatic officials in Cairo.
Egypt, a key US ally in the Middle East, is urging Washington not to push too hard, because if Assad is forced out, an Islamic fundamentalist regime could come to power, the officials said.
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt held talks with Assad last week, and he spoke on Tuesday with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who also has been pressing Assad to cooperate.