‘Khamenei ordered Hariri killing, Hizbullah takeover'

Lebanese minister says UN findings will be released next week; Saad Hariri calls for dialogue after government’s forced disintegration

Hariri, Khamenei meeting 311 (photo credit: AP)
Hariri, Khamenei meeting 311
(photo credit: AP)
A UN tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri is expected to accuse Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei of ordering the killing, while Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister said that dialogue is the only way out of the country’s political crisis after a Hizbullah-led coalition toppled his Western-backed government.
According to the US-based Newsmax website, the investigative body will lay out evidence showing that the 2005 murder was committed by Iran’s Quds force, along with Hizbullah.
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The order to murder Hariri was transmitted to Hizbullah’s military leader, Imad Mughniyeh, by Quds force chief Qassem Suleymani, sources told Newsmax.
Mughniyeh was killed in a car bombing in Damascus on February 12, 2008. According to Saturday’s report, Mughniyeh put together the hit team that carried out the attack at the behest of Iran, with the help of his brotherin- law.
“The Iranians considered Hariri to be an agent of Saudi Arabia, and felt that killing him would pave the way for a Hizbullah takeover of Lebanon,” a source told Newsmax.
Iran was not the only country involved in the assassination plot, they said. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, the head of Syrian intelligence, also played key roles in the plan to murder Hariri, a source was reported as saying.
The UN team intended to submit a draft indictment later Saturday, according to a report by the Lebanese daily A-Nahar. According to the report, the tribunal is set to hand in a preliminary copy to pre-trial Judge Daniel Fransen.
Meanwhile, Saad Hariri, who returned to Lebanon on Friday, has been trying to rally support in the US, France and Turkey since ministers allied to the Shi’ite militant group resigned on Wednesday, bringing down his government while he was in Washington meeting with President Barack Obama.
“There is no alternative to dialogue,” Hariri told reporters Friday after meeting with President Michel Suleiman.
“Between power and the dignity of my people and country, I choose the dignity of Lebanon and the Lebanese,” he added, reading from a brief statement. He did not take questions.
Hizbullah denounces the Netherlandsbased tribunal as a conspiracy by the US and Israel and demanded Hariri reject the court’s findings even before they come out. But Hariri has refused to break cooperation with the tribunal.
In an effort to ease tensions that some fear could ignite sectarian violence, the US Embassy in Beirut urged all political factions to “remain calm and exercise restraint at this critical time.”
In Washington, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, strongly condemned Hizbullah for quitting the coalition, and the White House promised to help Lebanon peacefully reconstitute a government.
Hariri stopped in France and Turkey on his way back to Lebanon as part of his efforts to rally international support.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday after meeting with Hariri that he would consult authorities in Iran, Syria and Qatar on Friday to try to find a solution to the crisis, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Lengthy negotiations lie ahead between Lebanon’s Western-backed blocs and the Hizbullah-led alliance known as March 8. If those fail, Lebanon could see a resurgence of the street protests and violence that have bedeviled the country in the past.
Suleiman will launch formal talks Monday on creating a new government, polling lawmakers on their choice before nominating a prime minister.
According to Lebanon’s constitution, the president must be Christian Maronite, the prime minister Sunni and the parliament speaker Shi’ite.
Hariri will stay on in a caretaker role while a new government is formed.
Oussama Saad, a Sunni politician who is a Hizbullah ally and potential candidate, called for a new prime minister who would “defend the resistance.”
“We cannot accept Hariri’s return to the post of prime minister,” he said Friday.
“We call for a new prime minister who does not draw strength from the outside against the people of his country, and one who doesn’t conspire against the resistance.”
Besides finding a Sunni candidate, Hizbullah would need the backing of Walid Jumblatt, the influential leader of the Druse sect who broke with his former allies in Hariri’s camp in 2009. Jumblatt has been a shrewd politician, known for shifting loyalties.
He met with Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Thursday night, but did not comment on the talks.
In the Netherlands, the tribunal held a public hearing Friday to discuss a former Lebanese security chief’s demand to see the evidence that led to his being jailed as a suspect for nearly four years.
Maj.-Gen. Jamil a-Sayyed, Lebanon’s former chief of general security, and three other pro-Syrian officers were freed from a Lebanese jail in April 2009 for lack of evidence. Sayyed said the tribunal’s refusal to let him see “false witness” testimony he claims framed him is undermining the court’s credibility.
Meanwhile, Nasrallah is expected to make a public statement on the political turmoil in Lebanon on Sunday on Hizbullah’s Al-Manar Television at 8.30 p.m., Hizbullah sources said.