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.


Egypt receives new batch of Russian railroad cars

Updated 21 min ago

Egypt receives new batch of Russian railroad cars

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Transport Kamel Al-Wazir announced that the Alexandria Port would be receiving a new batch of 22 passenger railroad cars, bringing the total of Russian railroad cars so far to 103 vehicles, as part of a deal to manufacture and supply 1,300 new passenger railroad cars.

The deal, signed between the Egyptian Railways Authority and Russian-Hungarian company Transmashholding, is the largest in the history of Egypt’s railways, with a value of €1.16 billion ($1.8 billion).

Al-Wazir confirmed that the 22 railroad cars that arrived are third-class vehicles with dynamic ventilation.

The deal includes 800 air-conditioned vehicles, 500 third-class air-conditioned vehicles (a new service offered to passengers for the first time in the history of Egyptian railways), 180 second-class vehicles, 90 first-class vehicles, 30 air-conditioned buffet vehicles and 500 dynamic ventilated third-class vehicles.

Al-Wazir indicated that 35 vehicles have arrived during the current month, which is the average monthly supply agreed upon with the manufacturer, pointing out that this rate enables the railway authority to form three new trains consisting of tractors and all-new cars that are entered monthly to become part of the line.

Al-Wazir said that the deal contributes to raising the efficiency of the Egyptian railways’ daily operations and schedules. This coincides with the Egyptian Railway Authority’s projects to modernize infrastructure, including signaling systems, crossings, stations and other aspects.

All these projects that the ministry implemented contributed to increasing safety and security in train operations and improving the level of service.

Egypt is seeking to develop its railways, the second oldest in the world, after witnessing unfortunate accidents during the past two decades.

Over the past few years, railways in Egypt have undergone major development, represented by the modernization of the fleet of tractors and vehicles of various classes and the maintenance of trains and old railways.

According to official data, Egypt spent EGP 40 billion ($2.5 billion) on railway development projects during the past six years. Projects at a cost of EGP 86 billion are currently under way, and there is a plan to start implementing others at a cost of EGP 55 billion.