Names of Hariri killing suspects handed to judge

Robert Fisk on the latest twist of an inquiry into the assassination of Lebanon's premier

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A deeply embarrassing tape of Saad Hariri, the outgoing Lebanese Prime Minister, blaming the Syrians for his father's murder, a threat by Hezbollah's allies to indict Mr Hariri for corruption, and continued fear – on the part of just about everyone – that the UN tribunal have named Hezbollah members for Rafiq Hariri's 2005 assassination, has turned Lebanon's political crisis into a nightmare. But, this being Lebanon, there are enough elements of sheer farce to suggest that local television stations, just about every Lebanese politician, Iran and America and Israel and Syria – not to mention a lot of the world's media – have been lying through their teeth and could provoke a purposeless bloodbath.

For months now, foreign journalists and Lebanese politicians have been warning that the UN tribunal will "imminently" indict several named members of Hezbollah for the murder of the elder Hariri, himself a former prime minister.

In fact, the tribunal's prosecutor has submitted his indictment for legal review to pre-trial Judge Daniel Franson. But Mr Franson can disagree with the indictment or merely delay it or even – so it seems – accept the indictment without revealing who it blames.

The contents of this document were first "revealed" by Der Spiegel, which often takes stories from Israeli sources, and is now being publicised by The Wall Street Journal – which also often takes news from Israeli sources – after an Israeli newspaper named one of the accused as a relative of murdered former pro-Iranian Hezbollah intelligence officer Imad Mughniyeh. And Hezbollah is very, very unhappy. It claims that the arrest of a score of Lebanese mobile phone company officials proves that Israel tampered with phone records on the day of Rafiq Hariri's murder – on St Valentine's Day, 2005 – and that four "false witnesses" who perjured themselves to the UN should be themselves arrested.

Evidence given by these four was used to imprison four Lebanese security generals for four years without trial – the UN, with much embarrassment, was forced to release them – and now the Lebanese New TV station has come out with a recording of Saad Hariri, talking with Muhamed Zuhair Siddiq, one of the so-called "false witnesses", and a UN official. On the tape, Mr Hariri can be heard to say that "we are all convinced that it was the Syrians who did the assassination" [of Rafiq Hariri], to which Mr Siddiq is heard to reply: "If you want to say this, you must start by responding to those who told these lies, especially those among the Arab states..."

In a grovelling response, Mr Hariri, who is still officially Lebanese Prime Minister, has explained that his remarks were taken out of context, that the tape must involve the security services, and that he spoke "several years ago during known political circumstances".

The tape was made in 2005, and Mr Hariri has now also expressed "personal apologies to all the friends mentioned in the conversations". This presumably includes the Syrian leadership with whom Mr Hariri has now restored personal relations. To make matters worse, ex-general Michel Aoun, a weird Christian supporter of Hezbollah's secretary general Hassan Nasrallah, has said that Mr Hariri should be "deprived of his civic rights" for "massive corruption" – in other words, sent to prison – and so should all his fellow MPs from the majority March 14 Movement if they continue to associate with him.

You don't have to follow every nuance of this truly Lebanese theatre – and many Lebanese can't – to realise that a lot of people are talking a lot of nonsense – not least US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is still insisting that the UN tribunal be "respected", even though most Lebanese are running a mile from it. But Hezbollah brought the government down by withdrawing from the cabinet and Mr Nasrallah is obviously worried – why else would he call anyone a "traitor" for co-operation with the UN – and a number of "false witnesses" are even more worried.

And the UN, of course, looks like a jackass. Presumably someone knows who killed Rafiq Hariri. An awful lot of Lebanese are breathless, however, not to find out.



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