(AFP) – Prime Minister Saad Hariri called on Saturday for “calm” in Lebanon in the face of expectations that a UN-backed court may implicate members of the powerful Hezbollah group in the 2005 murder of his father, ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.
His comments came two days after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah revealed that he expected rogue members of his Shiite party to be indicted for Rafiq Hariri’s assassination five years ago.
“There are those who fear or even hope that the (Hariri) murder case will unleash a Lebanese crisis or confessional strife,” the prime minister said in a speech to members of his Future Movement.
“There are attempts… to organise campaigns aimed at sowing confusion and concern in the minds of the Lebanese people,” Hariri said.
“There is no need for this fear… We call for calm,” he added.
The UN tribunal’s president, Antonio Cassese, said earlier this year he expects an indictment in the case between September and December, sparking fears in already tense Lebanon of a repeat of the violence that brought the country close to a new civil war in 2008.
On Thursday, the Hezbollah chief told a news conference via video link that Hariri told him some members of the Shiite movement would be indicted by the Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the murder.
“I was personally informed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri before his visit to Washington (in May) that the tribunal will accuse some undisciplined members” of Hezbollah, Nasrallah said.
“That’s where things seem to be heading,” he said, adding that the impending decision by the UN-backed court had pushed Lebanon into a “very sensitive phase.”
Hariri did not confirm or deny Nasrallah’s accounts of their conversation.
But MPs from the prime minister’s bloc denied that he had told Nasrallah Hezbollah members would be indicted.
“Hariri did not inform Nasrallah about the indictment sheet simply because he is not privy to its contents,” MP Hadi Hbeich said in a radio interview on Friday.
MP Ammar Houri confirmed that Hariri and Nasrallah had met in May but said they had discussed “only press reports” suggesting that the UN-back court could link Hezbollah to Rafiq Hariri’s murder.
Analysts have warned that Nasrallah’s surprise announcement could trigger new violence in Lebanon like that in May 2008 in which more than 100 people were killed when Hezbollah staged a spectacular takeover of mainly Sunni west Beirut following a crackdown on the party.
Oussama Safa, who heads the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies, said the country had a “50-50 chance” of sliding back into chaos.