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World Crisis-weary Lebanon braces for Hariri tribunal verdict

09:50  04 august  2020
09:50  04 august  2020 Source:   reuters.com

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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

Hariri was Lebanon 's Sunni premier until his resignation in 2004 over Syria's role as power-broker in the country. The verdict will not be the end of the tribunal 's work, as it opened a second case last year charging prime suspect Ayyash with terrorism and murder over deadly attacks on politicians in

By Tom Perry

Rafic Hariri wearing a suit and tie: FILE PHOTO: Workers prepare a giant poster depicting Lebanon's assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in downtown Beirut © Reuters/MOHAMED AZAKIR FILE PHOTO: Workers prepare a giant poster depicting Lebanon's assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in downtown Beirut

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Fifteen years after a truck bomb killed Lebanon's former Sunni leader Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut, triggering regional upheaval, a U.N.-backed court trying four suspects from Shi'ite Hezbollah delivers a verdict on Friday that could shake the country again.

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Hariri was Lebanon 's Sunni premier until his resignation in 2004 over Syria's role as power-broker in the country. The verdict will not be the end of the tribunal 's work, as it opened a second case last year charging prime suspect Ayyash with terrorism and murder over deadly attacks on politicians in

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), also referred to as the Lebanon Tribunal or the Hariri Tribunal , is a tribunal of international character applying Lebanese criminal law to carry out the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for 14 February 2005 assassination of Rafic Hariri

Rafic Hariri et al. standing next to a person in a suit and tie: FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri leaves the Elysee Palace following a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris © Reuters/XAVIER LHOSPICE FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri leaves the Elysee Palace following a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris

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.

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 U.N. 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.

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* MIDEAST STOCKS-UAE stocks gain in first trading after holidays, other markets closed PRECIOUS-Gold steadies near record high as virus concerns persist Lebanese foreign minister quits over slow reforms, Aoun adviser takes over Crisis - weary Lebanon braces for Hariri tribunal verdict Israeli

The special tribunal trying the four suspects accused of the 2005 assassination of Lebanon 's former prime minister Rafic Hariri delivers its verdict on August 7. A recap of key developments in the case: - Assassination - A massive suicide bomb tears through Hariri 's armoured convoy on the Beirut

a group of people on a motorcycle in front of a crowd: FILE PHOTO: Lebanese people wave flags as they gather for a pro-Syria rally in central Beirut © Reuters/MOHAMED AZAKIR FILE PHOTO: Lebanese people wave flags as they gather for a pro-Syria rally in central Beirut

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 politicised.

a large crowd of people standing in front of a building: FILE PHOTO: A crowd of Lebanese pack Martyrs Square to mark the first anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut © Reuters/JAMAL SAIDI FILE PHOTO: A crowd of Lebanese pack Martyrs Square to mark the first anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut

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.

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Hariri was Lebanon 's Sunni premier until his resignation in 2004 over Syria's role as power-broker in the country. The verdict will not be the end of the tribunal 's work, as it opened a second case last year charging prime suspect Ayyash with terrorism and murder over deadly attacks on politicians in

Lebanon is braced for another political crisis as a special tribunal set up to try the killers of Rafiq Hariri , the former prime minister, appears to be heading towards indicting members of Hizbollah, the Shia militant group. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbollah, which is supported by Syria

"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.

a group of people standing around a fire: FILE PHOTO: General view of the scene of a car bomb explosion in Beirut © Reuters/MOHAMED AZAKIR FILE PHOTO: General view of the scene of a car bomb explosion in Beirut

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.

a large ship in a body of water with a city in the background: FILE PHOTO: Smoke billows into the sky over the city following a car bomb explosion in Beirut © Reuters/ALEXANDER JENNICHES FILE PHOTO: Smoke billows into the sky over the city following a car bomb explosion in Beirut

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.

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The Special Tribunal for Lebanon , which was established by the UN Security Council to investigate the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut in 2005 has now issued its first indictment. It has not published any names or charges. The dossier will be with a pre-trial judge in

Hariri was Lebanon 's Sunni premier until his resignation in 2004 over Syria's role as power-broker in the country. The case was "circumstantial" but "compelling", prosecutors said, resting on mobile phone records allegedly showing the suspects conducting intense surveillance of Hariri from just after his

Rafic Hariri et al. looking at a person in a suit and tie: FILE PHOTO: Lebanese woman mourns assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri during a protest in Beirut © Reuters/SHARIF KARIM FILE PHOTO: Lebanese woman mourns assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri during a protest in Beirut

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.

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.

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As it tries to tackle the deep economic crisis, a guilty verdict could also jeopardise Lebanon's efforts, which have been supported by France, to win international aid.

a screenshot of a newspaper: FILE PHOTO: The website of the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon shows the pictures of four men wanted for the assassination of statesman Rafik al-Hariri © Reuters/Special Tribunal for Lebanon FILE PHOTO: The website of the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon shows the pictures of four men wanted for the assassination of statesman Rafik al-Hariri

"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 organisation.

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 mobilise international support if Lebanon moved ahead with reform.

(Writing by Dominic Evans; editing by Philippa Fletcher)


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