Delayed by two weeks, Hariri trial verdict still fuelling tensions

The verdicts were to have been read out in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s courtroom in the Netherlands on Friday, but will now be delivered on August 18, out of respect for blast victims.
Wednesday 05/08/2020
A file picture shows Lebanese then-Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri (C) chairing a meeting for Al Mustaqbal MPs Bloc at the Governmental Palace in Beirut, last January. (AFP)
A file picture shows Lebanese then-Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri (C) chairing a meeting for Al Mustaqbal MPs Bloc at the Governmental Palace in Beirut, last January. (AFP)

BEIRUT – A UN-backed tribunal postponed the delivery of judgments in the trial of four members of the militant group Hezbollah charged with involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The move was a mark of respect to victims of the devastating explosion that rocked Beirut late Tuesday.

The verdicts were to have been read out in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s courtroom in the Netherlands on Friday, but will now be delivered on August 18.

In a statement, the tribunal said the decision to delay Friday’s court hearing was made “out of respect for the countless victims of the devastating explosion that shook Beirut on August 4” and the three days of public mourning announced in Lebanon.

The court has expressed “its solidarity with the Lebanese people in these difficult times.”

A massive explosion at the port of Beirut rippled across the Lebanese capital Tuesday, killing at least 100 people, wounding thousands and leaving entire city blocks flooded with glass and rubble.

It remains unclear whether the explosion was a premeditated attack, as Lebanon remains tense.

Although now two weeks away, the delivery of the verdict in the trial of four Hezbollah members is escalating tensions in a country that is still under shock following the latest bloody incident.

Earlier Monday, Beit Al-Wassat, the headquarters of the Future Movement, was unusually busy as high-level military and security leaders lined up to meet former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

The leader of the Future Movement received the commander of the Lebanese Army General Joseph Aoun, director of the Lebanese Army Directorate of Intelligence Tony Mansour, head of Lebanon’s Directorate of General Security Major General Abbas Ibrahim, and head of the Internal Security Forces Major General Imad Othman, accompanied by the head of the Information Division Brigadier General Khaled Hammoud.

The visits indicated there were security concerns associated with the verdict.

Observers said the visiting officials to Beit Al-Wassat could have relayed messages about the need to control the Lebanese public’s reaction, and not being drawn into any provocation.

Many in Lebanon believe the verdict will find the Hezbollah suspects guilty.

Hezbollah, an influential political party in Lebanon’s government and a heavily armed guerrilla group, denies any role in Hariri’s killing.

The group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has accused the tribunal of being a tool of its enemies — the United States and Israel – to undermine it.

None of the four suspects named have been detained by Lebanese authorities. Hezbollah has said they will not be.

The indictment links the suspects to the attack largely through circumstantial evidence gleaned from phone records. Hezbollah says the accusations are fabricated.

Few expect the defendants to be handed over if convicted, but any guilty verdicts could pose a problem to the government and deepen rifts unresolved since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Lebanon is already reeling from the worst economic crisis in decades and a worsening COVID-19 outbreak.

Supporters of the international tribunal on Rafik Hariri’s case, including his son Saad, say that they are not seeking revenge or confrontation, but stress that the court’s decision must be respected.

“We look forward to the 7th of August to be a day of truth and justice for Lebanon, and a day for criminals to be convicted,” Saad Hariri said last week.

Deputy editor-in-chief of the Lebanese newspaper Al-Nahar Nabil Bou Monsef said that neither Saad Hariri nor Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah want to escalate tensions.

However, he expected that Hariri would call for the accused to be handed over if convicted, which would put Hezbollah on the defensive politically.

If the group refuses to hand over the convicted, it would put the government it helped form in a difficult situation.

As Lebanon tries to deal with a grinding economic crisis, the conviction verdict could jeopardise French-backed efforts to win international support for the country.

Last November, Hezbollah vowed to cut “every hand” that attempts to harm its members.