BEIRUT, (AP) – Lebanon gave a U.N. tribunal on Tuesday material provided by Hezbollah to press its claim that Israel was linked to the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Israel has dismissed Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s repeated claims as “ridiculous.” U.N. investigators have been probing Hariri’s killing for years but have never pointed to possible Israeli involvement — which Hezbollah says is a sign of bias.
Hezbollah has said it expects some of its members to face indictments by the Netherlands-based tribunal investigating Hariri’s assassination and claims the panel has no credibility. The militant group recently pointed the finger at its sworn enemy Israel, possibly in an attempt to deflect attention from its own indictments.
Lebanon’s government is an uneasy coalition of a Western-backed bloc and Hezbollah, which in just a few years has gained so much political power it now has a virtual veto over government decisions.
Hezbollah is undoubtedly the country’s most powerful military force, with an arsenal that far outweighs that of the Western-backed national army. The group has drawn praise in the past for standing up to Israel’s powerful military, although its 2006 war with Israel and 2008 sectarian clashes with political rivals raised criticism among some Lebanese that the movement was dragging the country into violent conflicts.
Hariri was killed in a massive Valentine’s Day truck bombing in 2005 that many in Lebanon blamed on Syria, which also backs Hezbollah. Syria denies involvement.
Hariri, a billionaire businessman who was credited with rebuilding Lebanon after its 15-year civil war, had been trying to limit Syria’s domination of Lebanon in the months before his assassination.
His killing sparked massive anti-Syrian protests in Lebanon, dubbed the “Cedar Revolution,” which led to Syria’s withdrawal of all of its tens of thousands of troops in Lebanon.
Last week, Hezbollah unveiled what it said was aerial reconnaissance footage and other material that implicates Israel. In a televised news conference, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said the tapes were intercepted by Hezbollah between the 1990s and 2005, and showed Israeli reconnaissance footage of areas frequented by Hariri, including where he died. He claimed this proved Israel was tracking his movements for purposes of assassination.
He acknowledged the material was not absolute proof, but that it can “open new horizons” for the investigation.
On Tuesday, Hezbollah handed over the material to Lebanon’s prosecutor general, who then gave it to the tribunal.
If Hezbollah is indicted, there are fears it could spark riots between the Sunni supporters of Hariri and Shiite followers of Hezbollah.
Lebanon’s two opposing camps have clashed over political power struggles. In May 2008, when the pro-Western government tried to dismantle Hezbollah’s telecommunications network, Hezbollah gunmen swept through Sunni pro-government neighborhoods of Beirut and raised the threat of a new civil war.