Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—At least three people were killed and scores were injured in a car bomb that targeted the Lebanese town of Hermel, 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the Syrian border, early on Thursday as the trial in absentia of four Hezbollah members charged with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri opened in The Hague.
The explosion struck at the center of the predominantly Shi’ite town, a Hezbollah stronghold, near a key local government building.
The attack is the most recent in a spate of sectarian violence that has targeted the country’s Sunni and Shi’ite communities as the conflict in neighboring Syria has developed and assumed an increasingly sectarian character.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman condemned the attack and urged security forces to “intensify efforts to detain instigators and criminals and bring them to justice.”
The Hariri assassination trial was attended by Hariri’s son, former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri.
The elder Hariri was killed, along with 21 others, in a bomb attack on his convoy in downtown Beirut on February 14, 2005.
Saad Al-Hariri said: “The opening of the tribunal is a historic day, as it opens a new page for justice in Lebanon.”
The four senior Hezbollah members accused of plotting the assassination—Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badreddine, Hussein Oneissi and Assad Sabra$#8212;have not been arrested and remain in hiding.
Hezbollah has denied the charges, dismissing the trial as a conspiracy by the US and Israel.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, a spokesman for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon said: “[The] first stage of trials begins on Thursday and will continue on Friday and Monday. The Prosecutor-General will begin the sessions with the opening statement, in which the indictment will be read out.
“The sessions scheduled for Thursday afternoon will be allocated for the lawyers of the victims.” He added that “the suspects’ lawyers will put forward their cases in Monday’s session.”
The spokesman said that the court would hear eight witnesses, without specifying when the hearing would take place.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, a senior member of the Future Movement and former Lebanese MP, Mustafa Alloush, said that Hezbollah’s relative silence on the tribunal reflected its conviction that “objecting to or criticizing [the tribunal] will not change any of the facts.”
Alloush dismissed remarks that the tribunal would stoke sectarian strife as “useless,” stressing that the trial would “go on.”
“Hezbollah is past the issue of the tribunal,” Alloush said, adding that the Shi’ite group was preoccupied with its involvement in Syria, which it deemed “a matter of life or death.”
“While Hezbollah is trying to say that the tribunal does not concern it, in reality its involvement in the fight alongside the Syrian regime exceeds by far its fear of the international tribunal,” he said.