x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hizbollah warns of strong reaction to Hariri inquiry

Hassan Narallah says violence will follow if tribunal indicts any of the militant group's members in the assassination in 2005 of Lebanon's prime minister.

Hizbollah supporters in Beirut cheer during a television broadcast of a speech by the group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, on Thursday.
Hizbollah supporters in Beirut cheer during a television broadcast of a speech by the group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, on Thursday.

BEIRUT // Hizbollah's leader warned on Thursday that any attempt to indict its members for the killing of Lebanon's prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, in 2005 would end in bloodshed.

"Whoever thinks the resistance could possibly accept any accusation against any of its jihadists or leaders is mistaken, no matter the pressures and threats," Hassan Nasrallah said, in a speech marking the anniversary of Hizbollah's first major operation against the Israelis in 1983.

Mr Nasrallah made the statements as Lebanon braces for a confrontation between Hizbollah and its supporters and the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri over the possibility that a UN-backed tribunal investigating the elder Hariri's death might indict members of the group.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon was formed in 2006 with the backing of the Lebanese government. Although the prosecutors have revealed almost nothing about their inquiry, Hizbollah's leadership appears convinced that any indictments, which are expected by the end of the year, could name several officials of the militant Shiite group.

But with Mr Hariri recently throwing his support behind the tribunal, which Lebanon partially funds and for which it supplies police investigators, Mr Nasrallah adamantly rejected any co-operation. He has declared support for the tribunal as a betrayal of Lebanon.

"Whoever thinks that we will allow the arrest or detention of any of our jihadists is mistaken," he said, describing Mr Hariri's government as "in a hurry to see an indictment" in the five-year-old case.

"The hand that attempts to reach [our members] will be cut off."

The strong rhetoric was widely seen as a sign that Hizbollah would respond with force should its members be accused. There are widespread rumours that the group is preparing to remove the government politically or by force. The speech did little to calm such fears when Mr Nasrallah equated any indictment to a direct attack by Israel on the resistance.

"We await the day the indictment will be released," he said. "We are ready for any Israeli war on Lebanon and will again be victorious."

Mr Hariri, who has been roundly criticised for his handling of the crisis and his busy travel schedule at a time of severe tensions, used a tense cabinet meeting on Wednesday to assail opposition members who tied his government to Israel.

Hizbollah's supporters have repeatedly accused the government loyal to Mr Hariri of collaborating with Israel and the United States during the war with Israel in 2006.

At the cabinet meeting, the telecommunications minister, Charbel Nahhas, told Mr Hariri that his refusal to open an independent investigation into witnesses who might have lied to the tribunal to implicate Syria or Hizbollah led the cabinet to "evade voting under US and Israeli pressure".

That accusation irked Mr Hariri, according to witnesses in the room. Mr Hariri said: "These statements are not acceptable. Israel puts pressure on you and people like you, but not on us. I won't accept what you [the opposition] impose on me no matter the outcome."

In response to both the speech by Mr Nasrallah and the confrontation in the cabinet meeting, a Hizbollah-linked MP warned the country was headed for trouble.

Ali Fayyad said in an interview yesterday that the atmosphere in the country "is not positive."

Hizbollah sources say they do not expect any action to be taken by either side until after next week's celebration of Eid al Adha.