Nasrallah: Israel assassinated Hariri

Hizbullah leader denies activity in Egypt, says campaign fails to discredit group in Arab world.

mubarak 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
mubarak 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hizbullah Chief Hassan Nasrallah charged over the weekend that Israel could have assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a claim which an Israeli government spokesman dismissed Saturday as "complete rubbish." Nasrallah made the charge in a televised speech on Friday, just two days after an international tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination released four Lebanese former security chiefs due to insufficient evidence to press charges against them. "Is it possible for Israel to execute such an operation? Of course," Nasrallah said less than five weeks before the Lebanese parliamentary elections. "Does Israel have an interest in executing this operation? Of course, for Israel wanted a civil war in Lebanon to which the 'resistance' would be a party. Whoever says that Israel does not have an interest in assassinating Hariri is killing the president a second time. I haven't heard any of the leaders of March 14 (the US-backed ruling coalition) say that Israel has an interest in assassinating Hariri," he said, according to excerpts of his speech quoted in the NOW Lebanon news site. Israel wanted to avenge "its humiliating withdrawal" from Southern Lebanon in 2000, Nasrallah said. A senior Israeli government official rejected the claim outright on Saturday night. "Everyone knows that to be total and complete rubbish and that Nasrallah saying it just makes him look like a fool to the people of Lebanon," the official told The Jerusalem Post on the condition of anonymity. Nasrallah also charged that had intelligence officials worked four years ago as hard as they are working now, "maybe we would have reached something in the case of Prime Minister Hariri." He also suggested that an alleged Israeli spy network discovered in Lebanon reaffirmed the possibility that Israel was behind the assassination, according to NOW Lebanon. Nasrallah also criticized the UN-backed tribunal investigating Hariri's assassination, saying that the release of the four generals on Wednesday was "evidence that the international investigation was politicized." Hariri's son, Sa'ad Hariri, who is head of the Future parliamentary bloc, said Wednesday that the tribunal's decision to release the generals, who are considered pro-Syrian, should create additional momentum and "raise the level of its credibility" rather than discredit it, according to a Thursday report in the Lebanese National News Agency. "What happened today marked the serious launching of the work of the tribunal and revealed it will definitely reach the killers, establish justice and protect Lebanon with God's will," Hariri said. Hariri's supporters have blamed Syria for the killing, a charge that Damascus denies. Hizbullah sees the release of the generals "as vindication of their claims that the tribunal had been politicized from the outset," Timur Goksel, a former senior UNIFIL adviser/spokesman, told reporters on Saturday. "It is not a victory for Hizbullah but they will certainly try to capitalize on it for the coming elections." The elections, however, depend largely on local dynamics and thus are unlikely to be influenced by external affairs. "There is not much of a swing vote in Lebanon, where people vote for names, not for their politics," Goksel said. Nasrallah also said Friday that his group has no intention of setting up a cell in Egypt to destabilize that predominantly Sunni Muslim country, and claimed that an alleged fierce Egyptian campaign against the group has failed to discredit it in the Arab world. He made the remarks in the wake of Egypt's announcement last month that it had uncovered a plot by 49 men linked to Hizbullah to destabilize the country by carrying out attacks on Egyptian institutions and Israeli tourists. Nasrallah at the time rejected the accusations but admitted a Hizbullah member was in Egypt supervising weapons shipments to Hizbullah's ally, Hamas. Egypt was wasting money and efforts in trying to vilify Hizbullah, Nasrallah said in a televised speech Friday night, again rejecting accusations of Hizbullah plots against Egypt. "We didn't set up a cell in Egypt and we don't intend to set up a cell in Egypt," he said. "We are not seeking to target Egypt, its security, its regime or its stability." Egypt's "wide-scale political, propaganda and media campaign" has failed to "distort Hizbullah's image," Nasrallah said, but added that Hizbullah would not engage in any sort of counter-campaign against Egypt in order to allow for Arab and Lebanese mediators to work to end the dispute. Nasrallah said several Arab and Lebanese leaders called for "dealing with this crisis in a calm and rational manner" - a reference to a recent statement by Lebanese President Michel Suleiman that he was using quiet diplomacy to try to resolve the Egypt-Hizbullah dispute. Nasrallah stressed the Egyptian campaign also would not harm Hizbullah ahead of the June 7 parliament elections. The United States and its allies among Arab nations such as Egypt are concerned that a Hizbullah electoral win could increase the sway of the group's backers Iran and Syria in the region. Nasrallah's comments came two days after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned regional adversaries - a reference to Iran and the Hizbullah group it supports - that he would not tolerate what he called tampering with his country's security and stability. Egypt and other Arab nations have watched with concern as Iran has deepened its regional influence through its support for Hizbullah and its development of nuclear technology. Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said he had no comments Saturday on Nasrallah's statements.