UN tribunal indicts Hezbollah members in Hariri assassination
The highly anticipated indictments could help bring accountability for former prime minister Rafik Hariri's 2005 assassination. But they could also stir sectarian tensions.
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“Together we witness a distinctive historic moment in the political, judicial, security, and moral life of Lebanon,” said Saad Hariri, the former prime minister and son of the slain Rafik who has been living in Paris in recent weeks – reportedly because of death threats. “Lebanon has paid the price of this moment, in decades of killings and assassinations without accountability. It is time to put a final end to this shameful series.”Skip to next paragraph
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Hezbollah sheikh dismisses tribunal
There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah on the release of the indictments. Hezbollah is expected to take a publicly aloof attitude to the announcement.
On Friday, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, said in a speech that the tribunal was no longer of any consequence to his party. “We are through with the issue of the tribunal since a long time,” he said. “We are not concerned with any scenario concerning the tribunal.”
Media leaks over the past two years claimed that the tribunal had discovered an alleged connection between Hezbollah and the assassination of Hariri, who died in a massive van bomb explosion in downtown Beirut in February 2005, a blast that also claimed the lives of 22 other people.
The Syrian regime was widely suspected of ordering Hariri’s murder, as relations between Damascus and the former prime minister had deteriorated drastically in the months leading to the assassination. Syria had 15,000 troops in Lebanon at the time, but Hariri’s death spurred a series of mass street protests which, along with international pressure, forced Damascus to withdraw its troops two months later.
There followed a string of assassinations of prominent Lebanese politicians, security officials, and journalists – most of whom had been openly critical of Syria’s role in Lebanon. An initial report by UN investigators in October 2005 found “converging evidence” that senior Lebanese and Syrian officials had planned Hariri’s assassination.
Search continues for those who authorized assassination
The exposure of a network of Hezbollah operatives allegedly involved in the plot, first reported in the media two years ago, appeared to shift the investigation into a new direction.
But analysts say that Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, did not have the latitude in 2005 to independently carry out an assassination of such strategic import. Still, the UN investigators apparently have yet to tease out the chain of evidence that can take them from some of the newly indicted ground-level perpetrators to those who authorized the assassination in the first place.
That task may have been rendered even harder by a series of mysterious assassinations of key security personnel in Syria and Lebanon since 2005, all of whom may have had knowledge of the Hariri murder.