Lebanon PM says he erred in blaming father’s murder on Syria

BEIRUT – Agence France-Presse

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in comments published on Monday that he erred in accusing Syria of the murder of his father, ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, in a 2005 bombing in Beirut.

“At some point, we made a mistake,” Hariri told the Saudi-owned daily Asharq Al-Awsat. “At one stage, we accused Syria of assassinating the martyred premier. “That was a political accusation, and that political accusation is over,” Hariri told the London-based newspaper. “There is a (U.N.) court that is doing its job, and we for our part must reassess what happened,” he said.

“The tribunal is completely independent of our political accusations, which were made prematurely,” Hariri added. “The tribunal only takes into consideration evidence.” Rafiq Hariri was killed in a massive bombing in the Lebanese capital on Feb. 14, 2005, that also claimed another 22 lives, at a time when Syria retained a tight grip over its smaller neighbor.

Saad Hariri and his allies pinned the blame on Damascus, which was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon that April, ending a presence of nearly three decades. Damascus has consistently denied any involvement in the assassination.

Since taking office as prime minister last year, the Western- and Saudi-backed Hariri has made five visits to the Syrian capital. During a visit in July, he signed 17 cooperation agreements and called for closer ties. He also visited President Bashar al-Assad in August.

The United Nations set up the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in 2007 to find and try those behind the Hariri assassination. Preliminary reports by a committee of The Hague-based tribunal concluded there was evidence implicating Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services in Hariri’s murder but there are no suspects currently in custody.

Tensions over the tribunal’s pending indictment have risen sharply in Lebanon in recent months as the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement, which sits in the national unity government led by Hariri, has reacted angrily to rumors that it may be implicated in the tribunal’s pending indictment.