Hezbollah accused of ‘covering up’ crime and ‘protecting criminals’ in Rafik Hariri assassination

A man walks past a portrait of slain Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. (AFP/File Photo)
A man walks past a portrait of slain Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 11 March 2022

Hezbollah accused of ‘covering up’ crime and ‘protecting criminals’ in Rafik Hariri assassination

A man walks past a portrait of slain Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Saad Hariri’s comments came after the Special Tribunal for Lebanon found two more Hezbollah members guilty of involvement in the 2005 killing

BEIRUT: The Appeals Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Thursday found Hezbollah members Hussein Oneissi and Hassan Habib Merhi guilty of involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.

When the verdict was announced, a number of members of the Future Movement, including party leader and former Prime minister Saad Hariri, accused Hezbollah of “covering up” the crime and “protecting criminals.”

The UN-backed STL ordered Lebanese authorities to arrest the men, who were convicted in their absence.

“The Public Prosecution is waiting for the arrest warrants to carry out its work,” a judicial source told Arab News. “However, since an arrest warrant was issued against Salim Ayyash (who was convicted in December 2020 by the STL of involvement in the assassination), the public prosecution has been instructing the authorities concerned to arrest him but to no avail.

“Usually, arrest warrants include the addresses at which the convicts are likely to be found but the search has not yielded any results so far.”

Reacting to the verdict, Hariri said: “It is imperative for the Lebanese state, with all its authorities and military and security forces, to work on arresting the convicts and handing them over to the STL to implement penalties.”

He directly accused Hezbollah of covering up the crime, protecting its members who were involved in it and helping them to evade international justice.

“History will not be merciful to any of the accomplices in the assassination,” he said. “We will remain on the lookout for every party or leadership that fails to implement justice and punish the killers.”

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said: “This development proves that we were right to resort to the STL, especially since we are seeing every day how the Lebanese judiciary is unable to investigate certain crimes committed in Lebanon, the latest of which is the flagrant inability to make any progress in the Beirut port blast probe.

“The verdict exposes Hezbollah’s involvement in the assassination and exposes the falseness of the party’s allegations and practices against Lebanon and the Lebanese. The verdict obligates Hezbollah to hand over the criminals without any delay.”

In December 2020, the STL ruled that there was insufficient evidence to convict Oneissi, Merhi and a third defendant, Assad Hassan Sabra. It found Ayyash, also a Hezbollah member, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of “orchestrating a conspiracy aimed at committing a terrorist act and committing a terrorist act using an explosive device, intentionally killing Rafik Hariri using explosive materials, intentionally killing 21 other people using explosive materials, and trying to intentionally kill 226 people using explosive materials.”

He was sentenced, in his absence, to life imprisonment and the court said that he cannot appeal against the verdict unless he turns himself in.

The public prosecution appealed against the 2020 ruling on Merhi and Oneissi, and the appeals judges unanimously said on Thursday that “the trial judges had committed errors.” The case against the four defendants relied on circumstantial evidence in the form of mobile phone records that prosecutors said revealed a Hezbollah cell plotting the attack.

Judge Ivana Hrdlickova, the STL president, announced that the Appeals Chamber would issue arrest warrants for Oneissi and Merhi later on Thursday.

The STL is expected to close after this appeals phase due to a lack of funding. Lebanese nationals have donated €500,000 euros ($548,000) to ensure the STL’s work could continue after Lebanese state failed to provide the funding it owes the court, as a result of the economic crisis the country is facing.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has refused to hand over the accused, stating that he does not recognize the authority of the STL.

Former MP Marwan Hamadeh said: “The STL, despite the wasted time and high costs, proved that the truth cannot be hidden by a group of villains who committed the crime of the century against Rafik Hariri and all his companions.”

Hamadeh, who was injured in a car bomb attack that targeted him for assassination in 2004, a few months before Hariri was killed in a similar attack, added: “Proving Hezbollah’s involvement in the assassination gives justice for Lebanon a new depth that requires the official authority to implement international arrest warrants against the criminals. Staying silent regarding the crime and its perpetrators has led to the collapse of Lebanese justice.”

The STL verdict comes days before the 17th anniversary of the March 14 uprising that followed the assassination of Hariri in 2005.

Hezbollah has yet to react to the verdict against Oneissi and Merhi. However, comments made on Friday by the head of the party’s parliamentary bloc, MP Mohammed Raad, about a forensic audit into the accounts of the country’s Central Bank were highlighted by some as evidence of Hezbollah’s double standards when it comes to prosecuting criminals.

“Hezbollah does not want to fool anyone; criminals must be punished,” Raad said.


Freed Moroccan POW speaks of Ukraine struggle

Freed Moroccan POW speaks of Ukraine struggle
Updated 43 sec ago

Freed Moroccan POW speaks of Ukraine struggle

Freed Moroccan POW speaks of Ukraine struggle

CASABLANCA: A Moroccan prisoner of war released as part of an exchange between Moscow and Kyiv said he wanted to draw attention to the “struggle” of Ukraine as he returned home Saturday.

“I’m happy to come home after going through very difficult times,” said Brahim Saadoun, 21, an aeronautical engineering student who had been based in Ukraine since 2019.

“I want to draw attention to the difficult situation in Ukraine and the struggle of its people in this painful time,” he said at his family home, in a working-class district of Casablanca.

Saadoun was freed on Wednesday, one of 10 foreign prisoners of war — including five British and two American citizen — transferred to Saudi Arabia as part of the exchange between Moscow and Kyiv.

Smiling and appearing in good health alongside his mother, Saadoun thanked Saudi Arabia, the Turkish government and the Moroccan people “who stood in solidarity with us.”

His father, Taher Saadoun, said he had “an indescribable feeling of joy,” and also praised Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his role in the release.

Brahim “has suffered from the imprisonment but he will recover and get back to his studies,” he said.

Brahim Saadoun was sentenced to death alongside two British men by the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic in early June.

After his trial, the Moroccan government said that Saadoun had been “captured while wearing the uniform of the military of the state of Ukraine, as a member of a Ukrainian naval unit.”

It said he had been “imprisoned by an entity that is recognized by neither the United Nations nor Morocco.”

Rabat has adopted a position of neutrality in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Morocco is keen not to alienate Moscow, a UN Security Council member, on the issue of the disputed status of Western Sahara, a vast stretch of mineral-rich desert which Rabat considers part of its own territory.


Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’

Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’
Updated 25 September 2022

Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’

Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’
  • A wave of protests has rocked Iran since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police

BRUSSELS: The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Sunday that Iran’s crackdown on protests is “unjustifiable” and “unacceptable,” as Tehran vowed no leniency against the unrest gripping the country.
A wave of protests has rocked Iran since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police.
At least 41 people have died, mostly protesters but including members of the Islamic republic’s security forces, according to an official toll, although human rights groups say the real figure is higher.
In a statement on behalf of the EU, Borrell said: “For the European Union and its member states, the widespread and disproportionate use of force against nonviolent protesters is unjustifiable and unacceptable.”
Moves “to severely restrict Internet access by the relevant Iranian authorities and to block instant messaging platforms is a further cause for concern, as it blatantly violates freedom of expression,” he added.
Amini was arrested on September 13, accused of having breached rules that mandate tightly fitted hijab head coverings as well as ripped jeans and brightly colored clothes.
Iran’s judiciary chief on Sunday “emphasised the need for decisive action without leniency.”


Quad condemns Houthi military reinforcement, attacks that threaten to derail Yemen truce

Quad condemns Houthi military reinforcement, attacks that threaten to derail Yemen truce
Updated 25 September 2022

Quad condemns Houthi military reinforcement, attacks that threaten to derail Yemen truce

Quad condemns Houthi military reinforcement, attacks that threaten to derail Yemen truce
  • The Quad countries called on the Houthis to open the main roads around Taiz
  • Reaffirmed support for Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, stressed importance of cohesion in the council

LONDON: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK, and the US have condemned the Houthis’ large scale military reinforcement and all attacks that threaten to derail the truce in Yemen.

The countries, known as the Quad, recently met to discuss the situation in Yemen and also condemned recent Houthi attacks on Taiz and a Houthi military parade that was put on in Hodeidah at the beginning of this month which violated the Hodeidah Agreement.

The Quad welcomed the tangible benefits of the truce in Yemen for the country’s people since it began on April. 2 and the continued implementation of agreed confidence building measures by its government.

The countries welcomed the flow of fuel into Hodeidah Port despite a Houthi order that delayed the established process for clearing ships, and the resumption of flights in and out of Sanaa airport.

They called for the implementation of outstanding measures including the opening by the Houthis of the main roads around Taiz and an agreement on a joint mechanism for the payment of civil servant salaries.

The Quad said it fully supports the efforts of UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg to extend and expand the truce which is due for renewal on Oct. 2, and that all terms of the truce must be fully implemented.

The governments of the four countries also agreed that a permanent ceasefire and a durable political settlement must be the ultimate objectives of the Yemeni political process, under UN auspices, and that such a settlement must be based on the agreed references and relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

They reaffirmed their support to Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, stressed the importance of cohesion in the council, and welcomed the council’s commitment to improving basic services and economic stability in the war-torn country.


Iran summons UK and Norway ambassadors amid violent unrest

Iran summons UK and Norway ambassadors amid violent unrest
Updated 25 September 2022

Iran summons UK and Norway ambassadors amid violent unrest

Iran summons UK and Norway ambassadors amid violent unrest
  • Protests over Amini’s death have spread across at least 46 cities, towns and villages in Iran
  • At least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the protests began

DUBAI: Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Sunday it summoned Britain’s ambassador to protest what it described as a hostile atmosphere created by London-based Farsi language media outlets. The move comes amid violent unrest in Iran triggered by the death of a young woman in police custody.
The state-run IRNA news agency reported the ministry also summoned Norway’s ambassador to Iran and strongly protested recent remarks by the president of the Norwegian parliament, Masud Gharahkhani.
The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody after being detained by Iranian morality police launched unrest across Iran’s provinces and the capital of Tehran.
Protests over Amini’s death have spread across at least 46 cities, towns and villages in Iran. State TV has suggested that at least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the protests began Sept. 17. An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities put the toll at least 11, with more than 1,200 demonstrators arrested.
The Foreign Ministry’s website said it summoned Simon Shercliff, the UK’s ambassador to Iran, on Saturday and protested the hosting of critical Farsi-language media outlets. The ministry alleges the news outlets have provoked disturbances and the spread of riots in Iran at the top of their programs.
Iran said it considers the news agencies’ reporting to be interference in Iran’s internal affairs and acts against its sovereignty.
The crisis in Iran began as a public outpouring of anger over the the death of Amini, who was arrested by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly wearing her Islamic headscarf too loosely. The police said she died of a heart attack and was not mistreated, but her family has cast doubt on that account.
Amini’s death has sparked sharp condemnation from Western countries and the United Nations.


Lebanon’s Grand Mufti appeals for unity in meeting with Sunni MPs ahead of presidential election

Lebanon’s Grand Mufti appeals for unity in meeting with Sunni MPs ahead of presidential election
Updated 25 September 2022

Lebanon’s Grand Mufti appeals for unity in meeting with Sunni MPs ahead of presidential election

Lebanon’s Grand Mufti appeals for unity in meeting with Sunni MPs ahead of presidential election
  • Derian: ‘We hope for government within days’

BEIRUT:  Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian warned on Saturday that Lebanon has become a failed state.

“We are rapidly moving toward no state at all, and the Arabs and the world will soon start ignoring Lebanon’s existence because of political mismanagement at all levels,” he said.

“We need to elect a new president and the MPs are responsible for electing him or creating a presidential vacuum.”

Derian had invited Sunni MPs for a meeting at Dar Al-Fatwa to discuss possible candidates.

All but three of 27 Sunni MPs from different political currents attended the meeting, including one MP affiliated with Hezbollah, in addition to reformist and independent MPs.

Two reformist MPs, Ibrahim Mneimneh and Halima Al-Qaaqour, and independent MP Osama Saad did not attend.

A source in Dar Al-Fatwa said that the meeting was aimed at uniting the Sunni bloc in parliament to allow it to have a meaningful say in the presidential elections.

The bloc also aims stop any attempts to tamper with the Taif Agreement and undermine its provisions regarding Lebanon’s constitution, the source said.

The meeting focused on efforts to preserve national unity, and respect constitutional deadlines on the election of a new president and the formation of a government capable of implementing financial, monetary and legislative reforms, including an economic recovery plan.

During the meeting, Derian said that the survival of nations and states depends on the effectiveness of their constitutional institutions.

The president is the protector of the constitution, and the Christian president in Lebanon is a symbol of coexistence on which the Lebanese system is based, he said.

Arabs “recognize and appreciate the Lebanese experience” because the Lebanese president is the only Christian president in the Arab world, Derian added.

He urged MPs to encourage respect for the president’s position, and help him assume his role at home and abroad.

Derian also said the new president must preserve the principles of the Taif Agreement, the constitution, coexistence, and Lebanon’s national, Arab and international legitimacy.

If these matters are neglected, Lebanon will be unable to maintain order, stability and its national entity, he added.

Derian highlighted the need to put an end to made-up sectarian, divisive clashes over powers and return to the constitutional principle of separating powers but maintaining cooperation between them.

He called for the election of a president characterized by the personal and political qualities of a public businessman who would be ethically responsible for the mission with which he is tasked.

The new president must have wisdom, national responsibility and integrity, as well as the ability to be inclusive of all Lebanese, and to use his powers to help the country out of this crisis and prevent it from reaching total collapse, he said.

Derian reiterated: “Either we elect a president with these qualities, or we see the regime and the state fall before our eyes.”

He also appealed for respect for the prime minister and help for the PM-designate with his mission.

“This is a joint responsibility that rests with everyone. We are looking forward to forming a government as soon as possible, perhaps in the next few days,” said Derain, adding that Lebanon needed a government with full powers  — and not a caretaker government —   in these harsh and difficult circumstances.

Derian said Lebanon can survive only if consensus is reached. There is no salvation without unity, away from tension, sectarian strife and incitement, he added.

Lebanon needed a president “who is not part of the problem or the cause of it.”

In a statement issued after the meeting, those present stressed the principles advocated by Dar Al-Fatwa, especially in terms of committing to the Taif Agreement, Lebanon’s Arab identity and national unity.

They also condemned the abuses that had harmed and were still harming the foundations of national reconciliation and coexistence.

The Sunni MPs stressed the need to end Lebanon’s suffering under mismanagement and rampant corruption.

“Saving Lebanon requires recognizing the mistakes that were made, holding the perpetrators accountable, whoever they are, and sincerely cooperating with the different Lebanese and Arab parties and the international community to restore Lebanon’s identity and stature,” they said.

The Sunni MPs said that they will work with fellow MPs to elect a new president on the specified constitutional date.

They said that the new president “needs to abide by the constitution and be loyal to the people of Lebanon and their interests.”

The statement added that Lebanon’s enemy was and still is the Israeli army, which continued to occupy parts of the Lebanese territories.

It called for the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions that stipulate the Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories and the recognition of Jerusalem as an occupied city.