Lebanese PM urges calm after indictments in Hariri case

UN tribunal delivers arrest warrants over 2005 murder of Rafik Hariri; Hezbollah members reportedly implicated; Sa'ad Hariri praises move.

Rafik Hariri billboards 311 R (photo credit: Ali Hashisho / Reuters)
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".
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.
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Hezbollah 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.
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.
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 war.
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 said.
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 officials said.
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.