Workers prepare a giant poster depicting Lebanon's assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon February 12, 2010
Workers prepare a giant poster depicting Lebanon's assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon February 12, 2010
Photo: Reuters
Workers prepare a giant poster depicting Lebanon's assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon February 12, 2010

Crisis-weary Lebanon braces for Hariri tribunal verdict

The defendants, members of Iran-backed Hezbollah, have been tried in absentia for 2005 bombing that killed the former PM, who spearheaded efforts to rebuild the nation following 25 year-long civil war

Reuters |
Published: 08.04.20 , 16:21
Fifteen years after a truck bomb killed Lebanon's former Sunni leader Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut, triggering regional upheaval, a UN-backed court trying four suspects from Shi'ite Hezbollah delivers a verdict on Friday that could shake the country again.
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  • The defendants, members of the powerful Iran-backed group, have been tried in absentia on charges of planning and arranging the 2005 bombing which killed the former prime minister who spearheaded Lebanon's reconstruction after its long civil war.
    Workers prepare a giant poster depicting Lebanon's assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon February 12, 2010 Workers prepare a giant poster depicting Lebanon's assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon February 12, 2010
    Workers prepare a giant poster depicting Lebanon's assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon February 12, 2010
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Hariri's assassination prompted mass protests in Beirut and a wave of international pressure which forced Syria to end its 29-year military presence in Lebanon after the UN investigator linked it with the bombing.
    The assassination also inflamed political and sectarian tensions inside Lebanon and across the Middle East, particularly when investigators started probing potential Hezbollah links to the death of a politician who was backed by the West as well as Sunni Gulf Arab states opposed to Tehran.
    Hezbollah, which is both a political party in Lebanon's government and a heavily armed guerrilla group, denies any role in Hariri's killing and dismisses the Netherlands-based tribunal as politicized.
    Lebanese mourners hold up a sign during the funeral of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon, February 16, 2005 Lebanese mourners hold up a sign during the funeral of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon, February 16, 2005
    Lebanese mourners hold up a sign during the funeral of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon, February 16, 2005
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Few expect the defendants to be handed over if convicted, but any guilty verdicts could deepen rifts unresolved since the 1975-1990 civil war, in a country already reeling from the worst economic crisis in decades and a deepening COVID-19 outbreak.
    Hariri's supporters, including his son Saad who subsequently also served as prime minister, say they are not seeking revenge or confrontation, but that the court verdict must be respected.
    "We... look forward to August 7 being a day of truth and justice for Lebanon and a day of punishment for the criminals," Saad Hariri said last week.

    'Avoiding strife'

    Hariri stepped down as prime minister in October after failing to address demands of protesters demonstrating against years of corruption by a ruling elite which has driven Lebanon to its current financial crisis.
    His successor Hassan Diab, backed by Hezbollah and its allies, says the country must avoid further turmoil over the tribunal verdicts. "Confronting strife is a priority," Diab tweeted last week.
    The devastation left after the bomb that targeted the motorcade of Rafik Hariri in Beirut on February 14, 2005 The devastation left after the bomb that targeted the motorcade of Rafik Hariri in Beirut on February 14, 2005
    The devastation left after the bomb that targeted the motorcade of Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut on February 14, 2005
    (Photo: AP)
    In the Feb. 14, 2005 bombing, a truck laden with 3,000 kg of high-grade explosives blew up as Rafik Hariri's motorcade passed Beirut's waterfront Saint Georges hotel, killing him and 21 other people and leaving a huge crater in the road.
    Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Assad Hassan Sabra and Hussein Hassan Oneissi are charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack. Ayyash is charged with committing a terrorist act, homicide and attempted homicide.
    The Hezbollah men named as the alleged killers of Rafik al-Hariri The Hezbollah men named as the alleged killers of Rafik al-Hariri
    The Hezbollah men named as the alleged killers of Rafik al-Hariri
    (Photo: Courtesy)
    Prosecutors said data culled from telephone networks showed that the defendants called each other from dozens of mobile phones to monitor Hariri in the months before the attack and to coordinate their movements on the day itself.
    The men have not been seen in public for years.
    Hezbollah has often questioned the tribunal's integrity and neutrality, saying its work had been tainted by false witnesses and reliance on telephone records that Israeli spies arrested in Lebanon could have manipulated.
    "It is Hezbollah's right to have doubts about the court, which transformed into political score-settling far from the truth," said Salem Zahran, an analyst with links to Hezbollah leaders. Any verdict "has no value" to the group, he said.
    Saad ed-Dine al-Hariri, son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, gestures in front of his father's coffin in Beirut, Lebanon, February 16, 2005 Saad ed-Dine al-Hariri, son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, gestures in front of his father's coffin in Beirut, Lebanon, February 16, 2005
    Saad ed-Dine al-Hariri, son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, gestures in front of his father's coffin in Beirut, Lebanon, February 16, 2005
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Nabil Boumonsef, deputy editor-in-chief of Lebanon's An-Nahar newspaper, said neither Saad Hariri nor Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah wanted to escalate tensions.
    But he expected Hariri to call for the defendants to be handed over if found guilty - which would leave Hezbollah on the defensive politically despite its military strength. If the group refused to surrender them it could put the government which it helped put together in difficulty.
    As it tries to tackle the deep economic crisis, a guilty verdict could also jeopardize Lebanon's efforts, which have been supported by France, to win international aid.
    Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri waves to supporters after casting his vote at a Beirut polling station in Lebanon September 1, 1996 Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri waves to supporters after casting his vote at a Beirut polling station in Lebanon September 1, 1996
    Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri waves to supporters after casting his vote at a Beirut polling station in Lebanon September 1, 1996
    (Photo: Reuters)
    "France... will have to take a position on Hezbollah after the verdict comes out on Aug. 7," Boumonsef said.
    Germany and Britain have designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
    France hosted a donor meeting in Paris in 2018 when Beirut won more than $11 billion in pledges for infrastructure investment. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Lebanese leaders in Beirut last month that Paris was ready to mobilize international support if Lebanon moved ahead with reform.

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