Claim that Hezbollah killed Hariri dangerous: analysts

26th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Germany's Der Spiegel news magazine reported on Saturday that the UN commission probing the Hariri murder had new evidence that Hezbollah special forces "planned and executed" the Beirut car bombing on February 14, 2005.

Beirut -- A report that Hezbollah was behind the 2005 assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri is a dangerous claim that could spark civil strife as Lebanon prepares to hold crunch elections, analysts believe.

"If the Special Tribunal for Lebanon comes out and confirms the report, we could be facing an all-out civil war," Paul Salem, head of the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Centre, told AFP of the UN-backed probe into the murder.

"On the other hand, it could be just a report in a newspaper."

Germany's Der Spiegel news magazine reported on Saturday that the UN commission probing the Hariri murder had new evidence that Hezbollah special forces "planned and executed" the Beirut car bombing on February 14, 2005.

The attack killed the billionaire former premier and 22 other people.

"We don't know where they are getting the story from," a spokeswoman for the prosecutor at The Hague-based tribunal said.

"The office of the prosecutor doesn't comment on any issues related to operational aspects of the investigation."

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah was expected to address the allegations late on Monday in a speech marking the ninth anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal in 2000 from southern Lebanon after 22 years.

Der Spiegel's claims come ahead of a June 7 election pitting Lebanon's US- and Saudi-backed parliamentary majority against an alliance headed by the Shiite Hezbollah, supported by Syria and Iran.

Hezbollah called the report "pure fabrication" and a bid to influence the election and deflect attention from a crackdown on alleged Israeli spy networks.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem called the report "lies which undermine the international investigation."

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, an expert on Hezbollah, said although the majority in Lebanon has so far refrained from capitalising on the allegations, the tables could turn at any moment.

"I would say the very dangerous implications it could have had have fizzled out, particularly as no officials of the majority camp have used it," she said. "But if (the majority) uses the report against Hezbollah, then of course we're going to see instability in Lebanon, and that's putting it mildly."

Last May, sectarian violence sparked by a spectacular power grab by Hezbollah in mainly Sunni parts of Beirut led to more than 110 deaths and took Lebanon close to another civil war.

Analysts questioned the timing of the Der Spiegel report, saying it was no coincidence it came before the elections and amid the espionage crackdown.

"The nature of the report is provocative, its timing is far from naive and, coupled with the Israeli reaction, it is a clear attempt to incite unrest," said Fadia Kiwan, head of political science at Beirut's Saint Joseph University.

"One word could set the streets on fire."

Israel on Sunday reacted to the report by urging the arrest of Nasrallah.

Der Spiegel said Hezbollah is implicated in Hariri's murder through the discovery of two linked mobile phone networks belonging to the militant group's "operational arm."

It said a secret unit of Lebanese security forces, led by intelligence expert Captain Wissam Eid, filtered out the numbers before Eid was himself murdered in January 2008.

A Hezbollah commando unit is also thought to be behind Eid's killing, Der Spiegel said.

Saad-Ghorayeb called the reference to Eid and his unit a bid to sow discord between Hezbollah and state security services which have been cooperating on the spy rings.

Since January Lebanon has charged at least 18 suspects, including a retired general, with spying for Israel.

"There are so many powers that would want to implicate Hezbollah in this and tarnish its reputation before the election," Saad-Ghorayeb said. "But most people don't buy the report.

"The evidence is way too flimsy."

Natacha Yazbeck/AFP/Expatica

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