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August 13, 2010

Hassan Nasrallah, will the UN investigate Israeli involvement in the al-Hariri assassination?

Scott Stockdale

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As the case against Syrian involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri seems to be unravelling, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, said that "there is enough evidence pointing to Israel."

Nasrallah said Israel used spying and covert operations to attempt to drive a wedge between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government. He presented what he described as Israeli reconnaissance footage, intercepted by Hezbollah, of areas frequented by al-Hariri, as part of the proof he has to support his claim of Israeli culpability in al-Hariri's assassination.

Nasrallah criticized the UN investigation into al-Hariri's assassination because it “does not look into the possibility that Israel is implicated.” Hezbollah considers the UN investigation an Israeli project to create strife in Lebanon.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and 22 others were killed on the Beirut seafront on February 14, 2005.

After the Lebanese opposition accused Syria and elements in the Lebanese security services of killing al-Hariri, 800,000 people gathered in Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut, on March 14, 2005, demanding the international community put pressure on Syria to withdraw its army and intelligence personnel from Lebanon.

Given that Damascus had thousands of troops and security agents in Lebanon and al-Hariri was a Lebanese nationalist who had allegedly fallen out with Syria, the possibility of Syrian involvement seemed logical.

Amid massive pressure from the Lebanese public, Syria ended its 29-year military and intelligence presence in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, according to Joshua Landis, the co-director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, there are others who are hoping Syrian officials will be proven responsible for al-Hariri's assassination.

"A lot of people have their hopes pinned on this, particularly the people from the Bush administration [who were in power in the United States when Hariri was killed]," Mr.  Landis said.

"The neo-conservatives in Washington were hoping that this case would stop any effort to re-engage Syria."

On April 7, 2005, the UN Security Council set up an International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) to find out who's responsible for al-Hariri's murder. The first reports from the (IIIC) appeared to support claims by the Bush administration that Syria was involved in state terrorism.

However, on June 15, 2006, the Security Council renewed and expanded the Commission's mandate to include investigations into 14 other assassinations of Lebanese politicians, journalists and security officials from 2004 to mid-2006.

These investigations led to the May 30, 2007 Security Council resolution to establish an international tribunal – the Special Tribunal for Lebanon – under the UN Charter's Chapter VII to try suspects in the al-Hariri assassination. 

On April 29, 2009, the Tribunal ordered the release of four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals, held without charge since 2005.

As'ad AbuKhalil, a professor of political science at California State University, says that Lebanese opinions of the tribunal are largely split along sectarian and political lines.

"Within March 14 (a coalition of anti-Syrian political parties), they have a message that 'we know for sure that the Syrians are behind the al-Hariri killing but on the other hand, let's find out what the tribunal will say', which proves to me that there is something political about this whole matter," AbuKhalil said.

"If you go to Shia areas, even after the al-Hariri assassination, many people there make the point: why are we only bothered, to the tune of millions of Lebanese taxpayers' dollars, to find the culprits of the al-Hariri killing when there have been thousands of Lebanese killed by Israel and they have nowhere near as much attention paid to them?"

It remains to be seen if the UN will investigate possible Israeli involvement in the al-Hariri assassination and whether this aspect of the story will be covered by Canada's mainstream national newspapers.

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