Crisis-weary Lebanon braces for Hariri tribunal verdict

A file photo taken on February 13, 2012 shows billboards bearing portraits of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri are pictured on the Sidon-Beirut highway in southern Lebanon on the eve of the anniversary of his assassination in 2005. (AFP)
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Updated 04 August 2020

Crisis-weary Lebanon braces for Hariri tribunal verdict

  • Members of Hezbollah have been tried in absentia on charges of planning and arranging the 2005 bombing which killed the former prime minister
  • Germany and Britain have designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization

BEIRUT: Fifteen years after a truck bomb killed Lebanon’s former leader Rafik Al-Hariri in Beirut, triggering regional upheaval, a UN-backed court trying four suspects from Hezbollah delivers a verdict on Friday that could shake the country again.
The defendants, members of the powerful Iran-backed group, have been tried in absentia on charges of planning and arranging the 2005 bombing which killed the former prime minister who spearheaded Lebanon’s reconstruction after its long civil war.
Hariri’s assassination prompted mass protests in Beirut and a wave of international pressure which forced Syria to end its 29-year military presence in Lebanon after the UN investigator linked it with the bombing.
The assassination also inflamed political and sectarian tensions inside Lebanon and across the Middle East, particularly when investigators started probing potential Hezbollah links to the death of the politician.
Hezbollah, which is both a political party in Lebanon’s government and a heavily armed guerrilla group, denies any role in Hariri’s killing and dismisses the Netherlands-based tribunal as politicized.
Few expect the defendants to be handed over if convicted, but any guilty verdicts could deepen rifts unresolved since the 1975-1990 civil war, in a country already reeling from the worst economic crisis in decades and a deepening COVID-19 outbreak.
Hariri’s supporters, including his son Saad who subsequently also served as prime minister, say they are not seeking revenge or confrontation, but that the court verdict must be respected.
“We... look forward to August 7 being a day of truth and justice for Lebanon and a day of punishment for the criminals,” Saad Hariri said last week.
AVOIDING STRIFE
Hariri stepped down as prime minister in October after failing to address demands of protesters demonstrating against years of corruption by a ruling elite which has driven Lebanon to its current financial crisis.
His successor Hassan Diab, backed by Hezbollah and its allies, says the country must avoid further turmoil over the tribunal verdicts. “Confronting strife is a priority,” Diab tweeted last week.
In the Feb. 14, 2005 bombing, a truck laden with 3,000 kg of high-grade explosives blew up as Rafik Hariri’s motorcade passed Beirut’s waterfront Saint Georges hotel, killing him and 21 other people and leaving a huge crater in the road.
Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Assad Hassan Sabra and Hussein Hassan Oneissi are charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack. Ayyash is charged with committing a terrorist act, homicide and attempted homicide.
Prosecutors said data culled from telephone networks showed that the defendants called each other from dozens of mobile phones to monitor Hariri in the months before the attack and to coordinate their movements on the day itself.
The men have not been seen in public for years.
Hezbollah has often questioned the tribunal’s integrity and neutrality, saying its work had been tainted by false witnesses and reliance on telephone records that Israeli spies arrested in Lebanon could have manipulated.
“It is Hezbollah’s right to have doubts about the court, which transformed into political score-settling far from the truth,” said Salem Zahran, an analyst with links to Hezbollah leaders. Any verdict “has no value” to the group, he said.
Nabil Boumonsef, deputy editor-in-chief of Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper, said neither Saad Hariri nor Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah wanted to escalate tensions.
But he expected Hariri to call for the defendants to be handed over if found guilty — which would leave Hezbollah on the defensive politically despite its military strength. If the group refused to surrender them it could put the government which it helped put together in difficulty.
As it tries to tackle the deep economic crisis, a guilty verdict could also jeopardize Lebanon’s efforts, which have been supported by France, to win international aid.
“France... will have to take a position on Hezbollah after the verdict comes out on Aug. 7,” Boumonsef said.
Germany and Britain have designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
France hosted a donor meeting in Paris in 2018 when Beirut won more than $11 billion in pledges for infrastructure investment. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Lebanese leaders in Beirut last month that Paris was ready to mobilize international support if Lebanon moved ahead with reform.


Jordan fund for response plan to Syrian crisis now at $644 million

Updated 19 min 15 sec ago

Jordan fund for response plan to Syrian crisis now at $644 million

  • The total aid set undet the scheme stood at $2.49 billion
  • The US topped the response plan donor list, with a grant of around $372 million

DUBAI: Funds for the Jordan Response Plan to the Syrian Crisis have reached at $644 million, the country’s Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation said.

The figure was only 28 percent of the total aid – $2.49 billion – showing a $1.6 billion deficit since the beginning of 2020, according to state news agency Petra.

About $155 million was allocated to support Syrian refugees in Jordan, $139 million to host communities, and $350 million to treasury.

The allocation did not include institution capacity building, government data has showed.

The figures revealed the US as the top donor for the response plan, donating around $372 million, followed by Germany whose grant reached $83.8 million.