- A UN-backed court is scheduled to issue its verdict in the case on Tuesday.
- Four members of the Iranian-backed Shi'ite group Hezbollah are being tried in absentia for the assassination of Hariri.
- Hezbollah rejects the court as a tool in the hands of its opponents.
After 15 years, the attention of the Lebanese, and the world’s attention, is on the city of The Hague, as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is scheduled to issue its verdict in the case of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in which four people affiliated with Hezbollah are being tried.
More than 15 years ago, Rafic Hariri was killed in a massive explosion in Beirut, and a UN-backed court is scheduled to issue its verdict in the case on Tuesday, at a time when Lebanon is suffering from the effects of a bigger explosion.
The Beirut Port explosion, on August 4, which killed at least 178 people, overshadowed the long-awaited ruling. It was the largest explosion in Lebanon’s history and more powerful than the bomb that killed Hariri and 21 others on the Beirut Corniche in 2005.
Four members of the Iranian-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah are being tried in absentia for the assassination of Hariri. Hezbollah denies any role in the killing, which has set the stage for years of confrontations that reached the point of a brief civil war in 2008.
The ruling also comes at a time when new divisions are emerging over demands for an international investigation and political accountability into the port explosion resulting from the unsafe storage of a huge amount of chemicals. The ruling may complicate the already precarious situation after the port explosion, and the resignation of the government-supported by Hezbollah and its allies.
The UN-backed tribunal is the first of its kind for Lebanon, and it represents to its supporters the hope that the truth will emerge, even once, in the many assassinations that Lebanon has witnessed.
On the other hand, Hezbollah rejects the court as a tool in the hands of its opponents. The party’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, said on Friday that Hezbollah was not interested in the ruling, and emphasized the innocence of its members.
Supporters of Hariri, led by his son Saad Hariri, who also held the premiership, say that they do not seek revenge or confrontation, but the ruling must be respected.
Tension Before the Assassination
On February 14, 2005, Hariri got into his car after visiting the Etoile Café near the House of Representatives of which he was a member. As his motorcade passed the Corniche, a bomb exploded in his car, leaving a huge crater and destroying the facades of the buildings surrounding the area.
Twenty-one people other than Hariri were killed in the blast outside the St. George Hotel. Among the victims were Hariri’s guards, some passers-by, and former Economy Minister Basil Fuleihan.
A year before the assassination, Hariri was involved in a dispute over extending the term of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. Under Syrian pressure, the Constitution was amended to allow an extension of its three-year term. Hariri opposed the move, but eventually signed the amendment.
In September 2004, a United Nations Security Council resolution imposed pressure on Syria over its role in Lebanon. The resolution called for free and fair presidential elections, the withdrawal of all foreign forces, and the demobilization of the armed groups in the country, among them Hezbollah, which supports the Syrian regime.
In October 2004, Hariri resigned as prime minister. The turmoil of the situation in Lebanon coincided with turmoil in the region, where the balance of power was turned upside down with the US-led invasion of Iraq.
This set the stage for escalating competition between Shiite Iran and its allies on one side, including Syria, and the Sunni Gulf states allied with the United States on the other side.