UN-backed court criticises Hezbollah boycott call

BEIRUT - The UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 killing of statesman Rafik al-Hariri accused Hezbollah on Friday of attempting to obstruct justice by calling on Lebanese to halt cooperation with the inquiry.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Fri 29 Oct 2010, 9:39 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:29 AM

Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said investigators were passing information to Israel, in the latest escalation in a war of words over the inquiry which threatens to plunge the country into more turmoil.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, stepped up its campaign against the tribunal after Lebanese officials and diplomats said the court’s prosecutor may indict members of the group, possibly early next year.

“Any call to boycott the tribunal is an attempt to obstruct justice,” a representative of the tribunal told Reuters. “The Special Tribunal for Lebanon will continue to rely on the full cooperation of the Lebanese government and the international community, according to its statute.”

Nasrallah spoke out after two international investigators were forced by a crowd of women to leave a doctor’s clinic in southern Beirut, a bastion of Hezbollah, where they had made an appointment to review files.

The tribunal said it would not be deterred from its work.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the incident, saying “such acts of interference and intimidation are unacceptable”, a statement by Ban’s spokesperson said.

“The secretary-general calls on all parties to refrain from interfering in its work.”

Standoff

Hezbollah, part of a fragile national unity government, has been trying to press the Saudi-backed Sunni Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Rafik’s son, into repudiating the tribunal, which the group considers a tool of U.S. and Israeli policy.

The Lebanese government has yet to comment on the issue.

“The situation is definitely at a standoff,” said Oussama Safa, director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.

“The escalation from Hezbollah has taken new heights, but I think none of this escalation will spiral out of control, nor will the tribunal back down,” he told Reuters.

Safa said a rapprochement between Syria and Saudi Arabia, who back opposing factions in Lebanon, would prevent the crisis from turning violent.

“Lebanon is in this incubator, a protective umbrella brokered by the Syrians and Saudis and Hezbollah will not want to seem that it’s bent on upsetting this understanding.”

The Syrian and Saudi leaders paid a joint visit to Beirut in July to calm tension over the tribunal, which some politicians have warned could push the country into a sectarian war.

Nasrallah has warned that any cooperation with the tribunal would be considered “an aggression against the resistance”.

The U.N. Security Council approved setting up the tribunal in May 2007 and it has yet to indict anyone over the attack.

The killing of Hariri and 22 others in a suicide truck bombing sparked an international outcry against Syria, forcing it to end a three-decade military presence in Lebanon.

Syria and Hezbollah have both denied any involvement in Hariri’s assassination.

The tribunal has stirred up political turmoil in the past. In Nov. 2006, Hezbollah and its allies withdrew their ministers from the cabinet after Hariri’s coalition rejected their demands for more say in government.

The coalition said Hezbollah and its allies had quit to derail plans for the tribunal, and a protracted crisis ensued.



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