BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia on Friday welcomed the unanimous verdict handed down by a UN-backed court for Lebanon against two Hezbollah agents for their role in the 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and called on the international community to help arrest the perpetrators “for the sake of justice.”
On Thursday, the Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon sentenced Habib Merhi and Hussein Oneissi to five life sentences each for carrying out the bomb attack that killed Hariri and 22 others and left 226 people injured.
However, the two men were sentenced in their absence and Iran-backed Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group and political movement, has refused to hand over the pair or a third man, Salim Ayyash, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2020.
Outlining the court’s decision, presiding judge Ivana Hrdlickova said that both Merhi and Oneissi were aware that Hariri would be killed in the attack, and added that the sentences reflected the “evil nature of terrorism.”
Saudi Arabia later called on “the international community to fulfill its responsibilities toward Lebanon and its people, who are suffering from the absurd terrorist practices of the Iranian-backed militia.”
It demanded “the implementation of the international resolutions relevant to Lebanon and the prosecution of the perpetrators who deliberately contributed to the loss of innocent lives, causing unprecedented chaos in the country.”
The Kingdom called for “their arrest for the sake of justice, and to defuse the crises experienced by Lebanon and its people over the past few decades due to their terrorist practices.”
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon Appeals Chamber said that “the crimes for which Merhi and Oneissi were convicted were extremely serious and that the aggravating circumstances set out by the prosecution in the indictment were proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Norman Farrell, the tribunal’s prosecutor, said that the attack targeting Hariri “caused incredible pain and suffering to many victims and their families.”
Efforts by the Hezbollah agents “to deceive the public, protect themselves from justice and remain unaccountable have failed,” he added.
However, the prosecutor said: “It is not the last step toward accountability. Justice requires their arrest. I call on those who protect the three accused from justice to hand them over to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. I also call on the international community to take any steps available to assist in their arrest.”
The verdict issued by the cash-strapped tribunal on Thursday may well be one of its last acts.
Lebanon has stopped funding the UN-backed forum, which is estimated to have cost at between $600 million and $1 billion since its opening in 2009.
The trial file of Salim Ayyash for related offenses against Lebanese politicians in 2004 and 2005 remains before the court.
A Lebanese judicial source told Arab News that “the latest verdict is supposed to be communicated to the Lebanese Ministry of Justice in order to allow the competent security services to prosecute convicts wherever they may be and to engage Interpol.”
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said the verdict condemns “Hezbollah as responsible for organizing and carrying out the crime, and as being the party that cannot evade responsibility for extraditing the convicted and carrying out the verdict.”
He added: “History will not be merciful.”
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the verdict “proves once again the validity of our tendency to resort to international legitimacy to seek truth and justice in the assassination of Rafic Hariri and his companions.”
Bahaa Hariri, the eldest son of Rafic Hariri, said: “We found out the full truth and we are waiting for justice to be achieved. It should encourage us, the Lebanese, to be more united, and to safeguard the sovereignty and stability of our country.”