Rafik Hariri billboards 311 R.
(photo credit: Ali Hashisho / Reuters)
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati responded to indictments
issued in the 2005 assassination of statesman Rafik Hariri on Thursday,
urging the Lebanese people to be "reasonable and far-sighted" to ensure
that "those who want to target the country and push us towards strife
miss their chance".Mikati has said he wants the government to honor Lebanon's international
commitments unless a national consensus emerges to reverse that
position -- which is unlikely given Sa'ad Hariri's continued strong
support for the tribunal.
A UN-backed tribunal seeking the killers of
Hariri handed indictments and arrest warrants to Lebanon on Thursday
that officials said accused Hezbollah members of involvement.
Hariri tribunal prosecutor amends indictment
Lebanon enters a tunnel, the end of which can't be seen
has vowed to thwart attempts to arrest any of its members and wants
Lebanon to end cooperation with the tribunal, withdraw Lebanese judges
and halt contributions to its funding.
A carefully-worded policy statement by Mikati's cabinet, which was
formed just two weeks ago after months of wrangling, said on Thursday
only that it "stressed the (importance of) truth in the crime against
Rafik Hariri" and said it would monitor the progress of the court.
Hariri urged Mikati to cooperate with the court.
"The Lebanese government is invited, politically, nationally, legally
and ethically, to implement its commitments towards the tribunal. There
is no reason for anyone to run away from this responsibility," he said
in a statement.
"It is time to put an end to the episodes of killing. The era of the murderers is over and the time for justice is close."
The long-awaited move was hailed as a "historic moment" by Rafik
Hariri's son, Sa'ad, but poses an immediate challenge to the new
government of Mikati whose cabinet is dominated by Hezbollah allies.
Prosecutor Saeed Mirza gave no details of the indictments. Lebanese
officials said four warrants were issued for Hezbollah members including
senior leader Mustafa Badreddine, who was jailed in Kuwait in 1983 over
a series of bombings and is a brother-in-law of slain Hezbollah
commander Imad Moughniyeh.
The Feb. 14, 2005 assassination plunged Lebanon into a series of
political crises, assassinations and bombings which led to sectarian
clashes in May 2008, dragging the country back to the brink of civil
Analysts said Mikati, whose government has yet to win a confidence vote
in parliament, now faces irreconcilable demands from Hariri's domestic
and international allies -- who want Lebanon to comply with the court --
and the majority of his cabinet who reject any cooperation with it.
Lebanese analyst Oussama Safa said that refusal would lead to Lebanon's
isolation. "Now the government of Mikati has to decide what it is going
to do. If it does not cooperate it risks putting Lebanon in trouble," he
The other three suspects were named by Lebanese officials as Salim Jamil
Ayyash, Hassan Issa and Assad Sabra. It was not clear how many belonged
to Hezbollah or what positions they held. All four were also suspected
of involvement in the killing of communist leader George Hawi and
attempts to kill former ministers Marwan Hamade and Elias al-Murr, the
Hezbollah, both a Shi'ite Muslim political movement and guerrilla army,
denies any role in the huge explosion on the Beirut seafront which
killed Hariri and 22 others.
There have been fears in Lebanon that indictments of Hezbollah members
over the assassination of the prominent Sunni Muslim leader, who was
prime minister for several terms between 1992 and 2004, could raise
sectarian tensions between factions still struggling with the legacy of
its 1975-90 civil war.