x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Lebanese leader says no deal over Hariri assassination

Syria and Saudi Arabia have failed to reach a deal to ease political tensions in Lebanon over the ongoing international investigation into 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

BEIRUT // Regional powers Syria and Saudi Arabia have failed to reach a deal to ease political tensions in Lebanon over the ongoing international investigation into 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, Lebanese leaders said yesterday.

The Shiite militant group Hezbollah blamed US meddling and demanded a Cabinet meeting within 24 hours.

The effort by Syria and Saudi Arabia – who have backed rival camps in Lebanon in the past – had been touted by Lebanese and Arab leaders as the best hope to defuse tensions in one of the most volatile corners of the region.

"The initiative has ended with no result," Michel Aoun said on Monday during a news conference. "We have reached a dead end."

A UN-backed tribunal investigating Hariri's killing is widely expected to name members of Hizbollah in upcoming indictments, which many fear that could re-ignite hostilities between Lebanon's rival Shiite and Sunni Muslims. In the worst case scenario, the indictments could cause the collapse of Lebanon's fragile unity government.

Hizbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, shares power in the government and has called on the Western-backed prime minister to reject the court's findings. But Prime Minister Saad Hariri – son of the slain leader – has refused to break cooperation with the court.

Saad Hariri, who is to meet later today with President Barack Obama in Washington, urged calm. The state-run National News Agency reported that he and President Michel Suleiman were discussing Hizbollah's call for a Cabinet meeting.

"Despite the developments of the last few hours, we will use all possible means to keep channels open to all the Lebanese to reach solutions that guarantee stability and calm and preserve national unity," Mr Hariri said from New York, according to the NNA.

There have been few details about the direction of the Syrian-Saudi initiative, but the talks were lauded as a potential Arab breakthrough, rather than a solution offered by Western powers.

Hizbollah cabinet minister, Mohammed Fneish, said the initiative was done in by "American intervention and the inability of the other side to overcome American pressure."

When asked why the talks collapsed, Mr Fneish said: "Ask Mrs Clinton," referring to the US secretary of state.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was asked about the Hariri tribunal in an interview yesterday with al Arabiya in Dubai, specifically if its findings could lead to instability in Lebanon.

She said she hoped the people in Lebanon understood that the tribunal's aim was "to end impunity for political assassination" in the country.

"It wasn't just former Prime Minister Hariri, let us remember, who was killed," she said. "It was many others from across Lebanon. Their families, their friends, their loved ones deserve justice, just as much as the Hariri family deserves justice. But most importantly, Lebanon deserves justice."