04 August 2020 16:31

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Crisis-weary Lebanon braces for Hariri tribunal verdict

Ehsan Fayed keeps reliving the day her husband was killed in a 2005 bombing in which Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri was assassinated, waiting for justice that may never come. Fayed, whose daughters were aged seven and four then, hopes the verdict on Friday of a UN-backed tribunal will at least establish the truth, 15 years on, about the attack that upended her life and the country. The court, based in the Netherlands, has indicted four suspects linked to Lebanon's powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, which denies any role in the massive bombing that also killed 21 others. Hezbollah, which helped form Lebanon's current government, has dismissed the tribunal as politically motivated. Hezbollah, a close ally of Damascus, says the Hague-based tribunal is a tool of the United States and Israel and the accusations are fabricated.

Hariri's son Saad--also a former premier--has said he is seeking justice, not revenge, and does not want to destabilise Lebanon, which is now grappling with a deep financial crisis. The 2005 Hariri assassination plunged Lebanon into a series of political crises, killings and bombings that dragged the country to the brink of another civil war as it was rebuilding after a 15-year confict that ended in 1990. Despite its multiple socio-political, economic and security challenges, the Lebanese economy managed to strut along primarily due to the stability provided to its financial system by the dollar peg. A large blast has hit the Lebanese capital, Beirut, ahead of the verdict in a trial for the killing of ex-PM Rafik Hariri in 2005. A UN tribunal is due to issue its verdict in the trial in absentia of four suspects in the murder by car bomb of Rafik Hariri.

All four are members of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, which has consistently denied any role in Hariri's death. The latest reports come amid political tension in Lebanon, with street demonstrations against the government's handling the worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. Fifteen years after a truck bomb killed Lebanon's former Sunni leader Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut, triggering regional upheaval, a UN-backed court trying four suspects from Shi'ite 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. Workers prepare a giant poster depicting Lebanon's assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon February 12, 2010 (Photo: Reuters) 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 a politician who was backed by the West as well as Sunni Gulf Arab states opposed to Tehran. 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. Lebanese mourners hold up a sign during the funeral of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon, February 16, 2005 (Photo: Reuters) 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. 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. 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. The devastation left after the bomb that targeted the motorcade of Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut on February 14, 2005 (Photo: AP) 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. Saad ed-Dine al-Hariri, son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, gestures in front of his father's coffin in Beirut, Lebanon, February 16, 2005 (Photo: Reuters) 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. 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.

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri waves to supporters after casting his vote at a Beirut polling station in Lebanon September 1, 1996 (Photo: Reuters) 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. BEIRUT (Reuters) - Four suspects belonging to Lebanon's armed Shi'ite Hezbollah group have been tried in absentia by the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon for the 2005 murder of former Sunni Muslim prime minister Rafik al Hariri. FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (2nd R), escorted by his bodyguards, greets his supporters at an anti-U.S. protest in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon September 17, 2012. Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and is a close ally of Syria, has denied any role in the 2005 bombing. * Hezbollah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has accused the tribunal of serving a political agenda — to undermine Hezbollah — and has said it is a tool of its enemies in the United States and Israel. * Founded in 1982 by Iran's Revolutionary Guards and classified by the United States and other Western countries as a terrorist organisation, Hezbollah (Party of God) is the most powerful group in Lebanon due to a heavily armed militia that fought several wars with Israel. The group and its allies helped form Lebanon's current government. * Shadowy groups, which Lebanese security officials and Western intelligence say are linked to Hezbollah, launched suicide attacks on Western embassies and targets and kidnapped Westerners in the 1980s. * 2005: Hezbollah entered Lebanese politics more visibly after Hariri's killing and Syrian troops left Lebanon. * 2006: Hezbollah and its allies quit a government led by Western-backed prime minister Fouad Siniora over the governing coalition's refusal to give the opposition effective veto power. * 2011: Syria's civil war lead to years of political paralysis in Lebanon. In January, the first government of Saad al-Hariri, Rafik al-Hariri's son, was toppled when Hezbollah and its allies quit over the U.N.-backed tribunal. Six months later, Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced a government dominated by Hezbollah and its allies. * 2016: Saad al-Hariri, who spent years abroad due to security fears, struck a deal making Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun president, and him premier.