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(photo credit: AP [file])
An arrest warrant should be immediately issued for Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday, following a German report linking the terror group to the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
"An international arrest warrant must be issued for Nasrallah, and he must stand trial," Lieberman said, before the weekly cabinet meeting. "The report about Nasrallah's involvement in the murder of prime minister Rafik Hariri must send a warning signal to the international community."
Hizbullah denied the report by Der Spiegel linking it to the 2005 killing, saying Sunday that it was an attempt to tarnish its image before parliamentary elections.
Saturday's report came at a time of rising tensions before the crucial June 7 elections, which could result in the Western-backed government being ousted by a Hizbullah-led coalition supported by Syria and Iran.
Hariri was killed along with 22 others in a massive truck bombing on a Beirut street in February 2005. The billionaire businessman and longtime ally of Syria was quietly challenging Damascus's three decades of domination over Lebanon at the time of his assassination.
His killing sparked a domestic and international outcry that forced Syria and its tens of thousands of troops out of the country.
An international tribunal prosecuting the suspected assassins began its work in the Netherlands in March.
A Hizbullah legislator dismissed the Der Spiegel report as "a big lie."
"We are waiting for the international tribunal to react and to see where the German magazine got its information from," Nawar Saheli said on Sunday.
A spokeswoman for the Hariri tribunal declined comment on the report.
"We do not address speculation," Radia Achouri said in a telephone interview. "The only information that is reliable is provided by the prosecutor himself."
Achouri said details of the investigation would remain confidential until the probe was completed.
Der Spiegel said in its Saturday report, which it said was based on sources close to the tribunal and verified by internal documents, that the investigation had reached the conclusion about Hizbullah's involvement about a month ago.
The report said that the assassins used eight cellular telephones bought on the same day in the northern city of Tripoli. One of them made the mistake of calling his girlfriend with one of the phones, revealing his identity.
The report also linked the explosives and the truck used in the attack to the Shi'ite group.
Last month, four Lebanese generals were released by the tribunal. They had been the only suspects in custody.
"The magazine's accusations are police fabrications made in the same black rooms that fabricated similar stories about the Syrians and the four generals," Hizbullah's statement said.
Four years ago, UN investigator Detlev Mehlis said the complexity of the assassination plot suggested a role by Syrian intelligence services and its pro-Syrian Lebanese counterpart.
During a news conference in Beirut, Mehlis had said Hizbullah was not involved in Hariri's assassination. An early draft of a report he issued in 2005 linked Syrian President Bashar Assad's inner circle to the murder, but the two investigators who succeeded him did not repeat the accusations and said Syria was cooperating.
Parliamentary majority leader Sa'ad Hariri, son of the slain leader, did not comment on the Der Spiegel report.
Walid Jumblatt, Sa'ad Hariri's political ally and an outspoken critic of Syria, warned against media leaks aimed at fomenting strife between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Lebanon.
"It seems that some newspaper reports are trying to precede the tribunal's verdict... in order to foment strife, hatred and divisions," Jumblatt told a rally at his family home southeast of Beirut.