Hezbollah Rejects Charges Over ’05 Killing of Hariri
By Nada Bakri
The New York Times
July 2, 2011
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, vowed Saturday that four members of his group indicted by an international tribunal in the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister would never be arrested. He dismissed the charges as a conspiracy to sow sectarian strife here.
The comments, Mr. Nasrallah’s first since the indictments were issued on Thursday, appeared to cast Lebanon into familiar territory: another period of waiting as a United Nations-backed tribunal that Hezbollah dismisses as a tool of the United States and Israel prepare for the next step if the men are not arrested.
The long-awaited indictments again brought to the fore the assassination in 2005 of Rafik Hariri, a former Sunni Muslim prime minister admired by supporters for his reconstruction of Lebanon after its 15-year civil war and criticized by his detractors for corruption that has seemed to infuse most aspects of public life here.
“No Lebanese government will be able to carry out any arrests whether in 30 days, 60 days, 1 year, 2 years, 30 years or even 300 years,” said Mr. Nasrallah, whose Shiite militant group fought a fierce battle against Israel in 2006. “What will happen is a trial in absentia, a trial in which the verdict has already been reached.”
According to legal experts, Lebanon has 30 days to carry out the arrests. The court may then issue a public call for the suspects’ detention. Failing that, proceedings for a trial in absentia may begin after another month.
While the names of the suspects were leaked, the details of the indictment remained secret. Before Mr. Nasrallah said all four were members of Hezbollah, only two were thought to belong. He described the men, at least two of them senior members in the group, as brothers “who have an honorable history in resisting Israel.”
Among those named in the indictment is Moustapha Badreddine, a relative of Imad Moughniyeh, the shadowy Hezbollah commander suspected in some of the group’s most spectacular acts of violence. Blogger's note: The author of this article fails to mention that Moughniyeh was himself assassinated in 2008, a crime that will never be the subject of any international tribunal seeking "justice".
Hezbollah has denied any responsibility in the killing of Mr. Hariri, an explosion in which 22 other people also died.
After Mr. Hariri’s death, the country was hurled into years of conflict and discord that divided Lebanon over questions as broad as the role of foreign powers here and as narrow as the relative weight of Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims in decision-making.
The declaration Saturday by Mr. Nasrallah illustrated the strengths and weaknesses of Hezbollah. Few in Lebanon doubt that the group, the most powerful actor in the country and, with its allies, constituting a majority in the cabinet, can shield its members from arrest. But in doing so, it effectively places itself above the law in a country where the group’s critics have often attacked it as a state within a state.
“They will not get to us or get to you,” Mr. Nasrallah promised his followers.
Hezbollah has dismissed the indictments by questioning the very credibility and professionalism of the court. In a relentless campaign that has persuaded many Lebanese, Mr. Nasrallah and allies have pointed to persistent leaks by the court and argued that its members are corrupt.
Mr. Nasrallah said he rejected “each and every void accusation” of the court as many of its members are “friends of Israel.”
Many in Lebanon have worried that the indictments would ignite strife in a country that remains deeply divided. Lebanon went without a government for five months this year. Mr. Nasrallah warned his community, which makes up the single biggest group in Lebanon, that it might face provocations, but that the accusations would not lead to a civil war.
“We have a government that we trust and that is ready to deal with the tribunal with a national spirit and will be able to head off any strife,” Mr. Nasrallah said.
The government he spoke of is headed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati , who succeeded Saad Hariri, Mr. Hariri’s son, in January when Hezbollah ministers and their allies walked out of the previous cabinet, causing its collapse, in protest of its support for the court.
Saad Hariri called the indictments on Thursday “a historic moment.”
“The time for justice is near,” he said in a statement.