Syrian regime, Hezbollah main players in Hariri’s assassination: Prosecution

The trial of four Hezbollah suspects in the assassination of Lebanese ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri, killed in 2005, enters the final stretch on September 11, 2018. (File/AFP)
Updated 12 September 2018
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Syrian regime, Hezbollah main players in Hariri’s assassination: Prosecution

  • Thirteen years after billionaire Hariri was killed by a huge suicide bomb in Beirut, the court in a suburb of The Hague will hear closing prosecution and defense arguments in the long-running case
  • Hezbollah has refused to turn over the four indicted men — Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi, Assad Sabra and Hassan Habib Merhi — for the trial which began in January 2014

The people of Lebanon watched the live broadcast on Tuesday of the beginning of the third phase of the special UN tribunal into the 2005 assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, held in The Hague.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri attended the trial, alongside relatives of the victims of the bombing that killed his father, minister Bassel Fliehan and 21 others.

The tribunal’s first-tier chamber in Leidschendam saw the unfolding of the last chance for the prosecution, the suspects’ defense team, and the affected families’ attorneys to submit their arguments. This process is expected to last between 10 days and two weeks. 

Spokesperson of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), Wajed Ramadan, told Arab News that this phase might even continue for 21 days.

She said: “The prosecutor expects the prosecution to take two to three days to present its argument as it will seek to prove the strength of the evidence submitted against the four suspects, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Hussein Hassan Anisi and Assad Hassan Sabra, and that it is beyond a reasonable doubt.

“On the other hand, the defense attorneys appointed by STL’s defense office will recall in their arguments their claims that call into question the evidence presented by the prosecutor’s office during the trial’s previous years, especially the telecommunications data on which the indictment was based, and each of the suspects’ attorneys will be given one day to present their arguments.

“The affected families’ attorneys will present the extent of the harm they suffered as a result of the crime and will be allowed two and a half hours to present their cases.”

Ramadan added: “During the hearings, the prosecutor is given the opportunity to respond to the arguments, and the prosecution as well as the attorneys of the affected families and the suspects will be given the opportunity to respond to the prosecutor.

“At the end of these hearings, the tribunal’s judges will be isolated for consideration, and this may continue until after the end of this year because they have to review thousands of pages of documents before issuing their verdict.” 

The tribunal canceled the trial of the Hezbollah military leader, Mustafa Badreddine, who was among the five people accused in the indictments, after he was killed in Syria. His name, however, continues to be repeated during the trial’s proceedings and in some of the testimonies as one of those who planned the stalking of Hariri and then carried out the assassination.

The prosecution team said that Badreddine was a senior official in Hezbollah, with military experience that qualified him to lead Hezbollah’s forces in Syria and manifested in the way he carried out the assassination of Hariri, pointing out that “Badreddine is the mastermind behind the assassination.”

The prosecution also highlighted that “Salim Ayyash led a six-person assassination unit targeting Rafik Hariri” and that “the evidence condemning the suspects is stark.” It has argued that “the Syrian regime is at the heart of the plot to assassinate Rafik Hariri,” pointing out that the “green network” (the telecommunications network) that led the assassination, is affiliated with Hezbollah. The prosecution stressed that “the evidence condemning the suspects accused of assassinating Rafik Hariri is stark,” emphasizing that the explosives used were “intended for military use.”

The prosecutor said: “The evidence proved convincing, strong and objective through the phone calls and their amount. In addition to that, the suspects’ phones stopped operating at the same time, which shows that they planned to carry out the crime.”

The attorney of the affected families said: “The assassination took place in an atmosphere characterized by a refusal of Syrian presence in Lebanon.”

Later, Saad Hariri described the first hearing as a difficult day for him, as the son of Rafik Hariri, and a difficult day for Lebanon.

He said: “Rafik Hariri and all the martyrs of March 14 have given their lives to protect Lebanon and not for its destruction. We have, therefore, demanded from the beginning justice and the truth, which we believe protect Lebanon. We never resorted to revenge because Rafik Hariri was never a man who would seek revenge but a man of justice, and we are following in his footsteps.”

Hariri added: “With time, people become calmer, and when they see the facts, they think more calmly. For me, the most important thing is Lebanon, and as the martyred prime minister always said, no one is greater than this country, and this is our real policy.”

He hoped that those who committed the crime would pay for it sooner or later and said: “We want to protect Lebanon.”

When asked about the prosecution’s claim that Hezbollah or one of its leaders had made the decision to assassinate his father, Hariri replied: “I do not know what the final decision will be. Let’s wait. At the end, we live together in the same country and want to live together for the benefit of this country. A man in my position today must put his emotions aside.”

Ramadan explained that the five judges would need so much time to consider the evidence before coming to a verdict because they have to review 3,128 pages of evidence submitted by the three legal teams, including details of the communications networks used by the suspects, in addition to the testimony of 307 witnesses summoned by the prosecution, the defense and the affected families’ attorneys.

She said: “The court is due to move to its fourth phase, which is intended for pronouncing verdict in a public session, followed by another public session in which the sentence is determined for every suspect if found guilty.”

“After that there is a 30-day time limit for the defense team to appeal to the second-tier chamber without passing the pre-trial judge. Meanwhile, the tribunal asks the Lebanese authorities to extradite the people it considers guilty of involvement in the crime, and this is the fifth phase.”

Ramadan highlighted that during every phase of the trial, the Lebanese state was obliged to search for the four suspects and hand them over to the tribunal.

“Every month, the Lebanese authorities sent a report to STL’s president of its ongoing efforts in searching for the suspects,” she said.

 

 


Calm in Hodeidah as observers move in to monitor cease-fire

Sporadic clashes continued until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, but residents said there was calm after that. (AFP)
Updated 19 December 2018
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Calm in Hodeidah as observers move in to monitor cease-fire

  • “Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the cease-fire,” a UN official said
  • The truce in Hodeidah officially began at midnight on Monday

JEDDAH: Truce monitoring observers will be deployed in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday as the first 24 hours of a UN-brokered cease-fire passed without incident.

The Redeployment Coordination Committee comprises members of the Yemeni government supported by the Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi militias backed by Iran, and is overseen by the UN. 

The head of the committee will report to the UN Security Council every week.

Deployment of the observers is the latest stage in a peace deal reached after talks last week in Sweden. Both sides in the conflict agreed to a cease-fire in Hodeidah and the withdrawal of their forces within 21 days.

“Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the cease-fire,” a UN official said on Tuesday.

Local authorities and police will run the city and its three port facilities under UN supervision, and the two sides are barred from bringing in reinforcements.

UN envoy Martin Griffith said the committee was expected to start its work swiftly “to translate the momentum built up in Sweden into achievements on the ground.”

The truce in Hodeidah officially began at midnight on Monday. Sporadic clashes continued until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, but residents said there was calm after that. 

“We are hopeful that things will go back to the way they were and that there will be no aggression, no airstrikes and lasting security,” said one, Amani Mohammed.

Another resident, Mohammed Al-Saikel, said he was optimistic the cease-fire would pave the way for a broader truce. “We are hopeful about this cease-fire in Hodeidah and one for Yemen in general,” he said. “We will reach out in peace to whoever does the same.”

The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution that asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to submit proposals by the end of the month on how to monitor the cease-fire.

The resolution, submitted by the UK, “calls on all parties to the conflict to take further steps to facilitate the unhindered flow of commercial and humanitarian supplies including food, fuel, medicine and other essential imports and humanitarian personnel into and across the country.”