The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon is reportedly set to announce that Mustafa Badr al-Din, a senior Hizbullah operative and close relative of the former Hizbullah terror chief Imad Mughniyeh, is the main suspect in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
According to an Israel TV report on Thursday night, Hariri’s son, the current Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, asked the tribunal to postpone releasing Din’s name, because of the potentially incendiary implications for Lebanon of such an announcement.
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'Blame on Hizbullah for Hariri hit'
Din, the cousin and brother- in-law of Mughniyeh, who was killed in a car bomb in Damascus in February 2008, was also reportedly responsible for planning the attempted assassination of the ruler of Kuwait in 1985, among other operations.
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbullah, said last week that members of his group would be among those indicted by the tribunal, which he dismissed as an “Israeli plot.”
Many in Lebanon have worried that if the tribunal implicates Hizbullah, it could lead to another round of clashes between Lebanon’s Shi’ite and Sunni communities, like the bloody conflict that convulsed Beirut in 2008.
Tensions in Lebanon have generated so much concern that Syria’s President Bashar Assad was expected to travel to Beirut on Friday, his first trip there since his troops were forced out.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah made a rare journey to Damascus on Thursday, in a visit apparently intended to indicate a united front as regional tensions mount over the pending indictments in the Hariri assassination.
Syria and Saudi Arabia have long been on opposite sides of a deep rift in the Arab world, with Syria backing groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas. The Saudi kingdom is a US ally, along with Jordan and Egypt.
Assad and Abdullah agreed that the “challenges facing Arabs, mainly in occupied Palestine, necessitate that all [Arabs] double their efforts to upgrade inter-Arab relations,” Syria’s official news agency reported after the end of a meeting between the two leaders.
They also stressed the need to support all means to boost stability and unity in Lebanon.
Many in Lebanon blame Syria for the Hariri assassination, a claim that Damascus denies. Hariri was a Sunni leader with strong Saudi links, and his killing exacerbated the already-strained relationship between Riyadh and Damascus.
Hariri’s death was followed by the rise of the US and Saudi-backed March 14 coalition, named after a day of massive anti-Syrian protests in 2005 dubbed the “Cedar Revolution.”
The demonstrations eventually led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops,
ending almost three decades of Syrian domination established during
Lebanon’s civil war.
Regional tensions are also high over reports that Syria sent Scud
missiles to Hizbullah and suspicions that Hizbullah patron Iran wants to
acquire nuclear weapons. Syria, which denied sending Scuds, is Iran’s
strongest ally in the Arab world.