Lebanon's Hariri accepts tribunal's verdict on murder of ex-PM father

By: AFP      Published: 08:22 PM, 18 Aug, 2020
Lebanon's Hariri accepts tribunal's verdict on murder of ex-PM father

Lebanon's Saad Hariri said Tuesday he accepted a special tribunal's verdict over the 2005 murder of his father, former prime minister Rafic Hariri.

"The court has ruled, and in the name of the family of the late prime minister Rafic Hariri and on behalf of the families of the martyrs and victims, we accept the court's ruling," he said outside the court.

"Today, we have all discovered the truth," added Hariri, who attended the heavily secured court for the judgement.

The UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Tuesday found Salim Ayyash, a member of the Shiite movement Hezbollah, guilty over Hariri's murder, but cleared three other suspects after a years-long trial.

Ayyash, 56, was convicted in absentia by the Netherlands-based court over a huge suicide bombing in Beirut that killed the Sunni billionaire politician and 21 other people.

Judges said there was not enough evidence to convict Assad Sabra, 43, Hussein Oneissi, 46, and Hassan Habib Merhi, 54, over the blast, which changed the face of the Middle East.

The judges also said there was no evidence to directly link Syria -- the former military overlord in Lebanon -- or Hezbollah's leadership to the attack.

Hariri on Tuesday said the verdict demonstrated the court's objectivity and "high credibility," as only one of four suspects was found guilty, when court critics, including Hezbollah, had expected a wholesale guilty sentence from what they have called a "politicised" court. 

Even though the court did not link Hezbollah's leadership to the attack, Hariri said he still believed the Iran-backed movement was responsible.

"Today, the party that should make sacrifices is Hezbollah," he said.

"It is clear that the network responsible is from its ranks," he added, saying that the perpetrators thought they could dodge justice and punishment because of Hezbollah's protection.

"We will not rest until the punishment is carried out," Hariri said.

"The Lebanese, as of today, will not accept for their country to be a haven for murderers."

Hariri murder verdict disappoints ex-PM supporters in Lebanon

Supporters of late Lebanese ex-premier Rafic Hariri voiced disappointment Tuesday over the verdict of UN-backed court on his 2005 assassination, despite Hariri's son hailing a triumph for truth.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon found Salim Ayyash, a member of the Shiite movement Hezbollah, guilty over the huge suicide bombing in Beirut killed the Sunni billionaire and 21 other people.

But it cleared three other suspects after a years-long trial.

Judges at the court also said there was no evidence to directly link Hezbollah's leadership or Syria -- the former military overlord in Lebanon -- to the attack. 

For some of Hariri's supporters in Lebanon, the verdict let Hezbollah off the hook.

"At the end of the day, those accused are leaders of Hezbollah," said Amin Baroudy, a university student from the northern city of Tripoli.

"Both me and my children (to come) will remain convinced that those that committed this crime are affiliated with Hezbollah," he added.

Baroudy spoke to AFP from near Hariri's Beirut grave, where dozens of the former prime minister’s supporters had gathered during the day to watch a live stream of the verdict, 5,664 days after the blast rocked the city.

Rafic's sister, Bahia, herself an MP, was among the crowd when the verdict blasted through the loudspeakers.

Several lawmakers and politicians were also in attendance at the site, guarded by a heavy contingent of security forces.

'Court is a joke' 

 

Hariri had been Lebanon's premier until his resignation in 2004 over Syria's role as powerbroker in the country.

Observers had voiced fears that the verdict, whatever it was, would spark violence in the streets in Lebanon.

But rather than anger, the prevailing mood among Hariri supporters was one of widespread disappointment.

"We're now sure that the court is a joke," said Walid al-Hayek, a Hariri supporter from the eastern Bekaa Valley region.

Ahmad al-Lakkis, from the northern city of Byblos, said the verdict was seen as "unjust" by many Lebanese.

Faysal Itani, a deputy director at the Center for Global Policy, wrote on Twitter: "A Salim Ayyash guilty verdict is the very least that could have happened. Bringing us to baseline bad."

But Rafic Hariri's son Saad, also a former prime minister and now the head of the Future Movement party founded buy his father, took a more positive tone.

"Today, we have all discovered the truth," Saad Hariri said after the verdict, which he  accepted on behalf of his family and the families of the other victims. 

A pro-Hariri political camp had been hoping for years that the international tribunal would firmly link the assassination to Hezbollah, a rival of the Future Movement. 

Hezbollah partisans, on the other hand, have dismissed the tribunal as politicised, expecting it would issue a wholesale guilty verdict against all suspects accused over the bombing.

Karim Bitar, professor of international relations in Paris and Beirut, said reactions in Lebanon were polarised depending on party allegiance.

Hezbollah supporters, "who have been questioning the tribunal's legitimacy for the past 15 years, seem comfortable with the verdict," he wrote on Twitter.

Hariri backers, however, "who have been desperately waiting for 'truth and justice,' now seem depressed," he added.