x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Tribunal begins to unearth trail of assassinations

Starting with Rafiq Hariri's murder, a series of political assassinations in Lebanon stifled the country. Now, as the Special Tribunal is drawing connections between the crimes, there is a chance to put the ghosts to rest.

In October 2004, four months before the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was assassinated, Marwan Hamadeh was lucky enough to survive a bomb attack. The Druze MP was targeted by a car bomb that, although much smaller than the one that murdered Hariri, still killed his driver. A few months after Hariri's death, another politician, George Hawi, was killed, also in a car bombing. One month later, the former defence minister Elias Murr survived a similar attempt.

There were more than a dozen assassinations, attempts and bombings after Hariri was killed - in that one year alone. The killings continued through 2008, when the top Lebanese investigator on the Hariri case, Captain Wissam Eid, was assassinated. Most were seen as opponents of Syrian influence, although in Lebanon's murky politics and shifting alliances, it is hard always to draw clear lines.

On Friday, there came one of the strongest indications that all of these crimes might, eventually, be linked together. The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon, opened in 2009 to investigate the killing of Hariri, interviewed Mr Hamadeh, Mr Murr and Mr Hawi's family members, telling them that their cases were being considered together.

In the uneasy days following Hariri's murder, and the hope that followed Syria's withdrawal of its military occupation, these murders established a climate of fear. Politics was replaced by the rule of the gun and the bomb, a dangerous and familiar state of affairs in Lebanon.

It remains to be seen what the results of the investigation will yield. The Tribunal appears to corroborate statements made in 2005 by US officials who said Mr Hawi was on a list prepared by Syrian authorities of targeted Lebanese figures. Since 2005, the Hariri investigation has often been mired in confusion and controversy and it is just recently - since the first indictments were handed down in June - that there seems to be some clarity.

So far four men, identified as Hizbollah members, have been charged, although last week Tribunal officials acknowledged that none had been arrested and appealed to them to turn themselves in. In the likely scenario that they do not, a trial will be held in absentia.

The question might be asked why hold a trial of men who, quite conceivably, will never be arrested and held accountable. That string of murders starting in 2005, not just Rafiq Hariri's, is one reason. Regardless of the results, Lebanon needs a trial to dispense with the conspiracy theories, innuendo and outright falsehoods. The country has already buried far too many people in silence.