07/01/2011, 00.00
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Beirut is calm (for now) following arrest warrants against Hizbollah members

by Fady Noun
Lebanon has 30 days to arrest the people indicted in connection with the Rafik Hariri murder. In the capital, people are cautious, waiting to see if the Hizbollah-dominated government survives. Many think that Syria (or even Washington) was behind Hizbollah.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – After years of waiting, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) has announced indictments in connection with the murder of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a Sunni, on 14 February 2005. However, the papers are still sealed.

Although arrest warrants have been issued against four members of Hizbollah, Lebanese public opinion has taken the news with calm. No one in the country’s Sunni or Shia communities has been ruffled despite fears that the information could stoke sectarian tensions.

This apparent detachment has one main reason. The indictments confirm stories already public since 2009, eventually published in Der Spiegel. There was, in short, no surprise effect.

Leaked information that appeared in the foreign and Arab media has in fact undermined the credibility of the charges. A year ago, Hizbollah launched a media campaign against the STL, claiming that the tribunal was playing politics, acting on behalf of the Americans who were trying to harm the Shia party.

Objectively, the conditions for sectarian strife are non-existent. As several incidents in the recent past have shown, everyone knows that Hizbollah is the dominant military force in the country. Should there be any flare up in predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods, Hizbollah or Lebanon’s regular army would swiftly move in.

Hizbollah itself responded with indifference to reports that some of its officials were involved in Rafik Hariri’s murder. The party has said that it was “not interested” in the STL.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri called the tribunal’s decision an “historic moment” but travelled to France following warnings from foreign secret services of possible attacks against him.

In circles close to the Maronite Church, the indictments were met with caution. The Church hierarchy has faith in international justice and wants the truth, but, over the years, has taken a guarded attitude towards what is done in the name of the “international community”. Too often, the United States has put its interests ahead those of Lebanon or before justice. For many in the country, Lebanon is caught in a power game among nations and doubt the whole truth will ever come out.

Most Lebanese are also sceptical. Many are convinced that Hizbollah carried out the murder, but look at Damascus, or even Washington, for its sponsors.

What now? Legally, STL rules say that Lebanon has 30 days to arrest the four indicted men and move to The Hague, the STL headquarters. After this period, the indictments will be made public and the suspects will be tried in absentia.

Thus, during this 30 day-period, it will be possible to see how much Lebanon’s new Hizbollah-dominated government of Prime Minister Nagib Mikati will work with the tribunal.

The Shia party has in fact already said that it would not allow its members to be arrested, which raises questions about what the centrist members of the new government will do. Will they try something to save face? If so, how will they do that? What will Saad Hariri’s 14 March alliance, now in the opposition, do? Answers to these crucial questions are expected in three or four weeks.

In the meantime, we should know whether non-Lebanese are among those indicted by the STL or not. In fact, the tribunal has given Lebanon only some of the evidence. The rest has gone to other parties to the case, including, some believe, Syria.
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See also
Decision to set up international tribunal greeted with fireworks and bombs
Tensions rise in Lebanon over possible Hizbollah involvement in Hariri assassination
A country in mourning looks to the future with anxiety
As Lebanon’s government collapses, the country’s stability is endangered
UN tribunal reconstructs blast that killed Rafik Hariri


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