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Hariri report stirs mixed feelings

By Mike Sergeant
BBC News, Beirut

Supporters of the Lebanese government mark the third anniversary of Rafik Haririís assassination in Beirut, 14 February 2008
Thousands marked the third anniversary of Hariri's killing

Every twist and turn of the investigation into the killing of Rarik Hariri is watched very closely in Lebanon.

The assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister was a defining moment in this country's recent history.

It led to massive street demonstrations against Syrian involvement in Lebanon.

Damascus denied responsibility for the bombing, but eventually Syria bowed to international pressure and ended more than 30 years of military presence.

The investigation into Mr Hariri's death remains one of the most important, and potentially explosive issues here.

Report welcomed

The current political deadlock, and the failure to elect a president, is inextricably tied up with the search for Mr Hariri's killers.

The latest report on the investigation issued by the UN chief investigator Daniel Bellemare in New York has been welcomed by opinion-formers on both sides of Lebanon's political divide.

But they have a different analysis.

This implies more clearly the direction of the inquiry... The iceberg is slowly melting
Marwan Hmadeh,
Communications Minister

"I think there is real progress here," says Marwan Hmadeh, Minister of Communications in the anti-Syrian coalition government.

He was himself the victim of an assassination attempt before the attack which killed Mr Hariri.

"By saying there is a criminal network, the report asserts what previous prosecutors have said, but adds that some links may now have been established (between different attacks). This implies more clearly the direction of the inquiry... The iceberg is slowly melting."

Mr Hmadeh thinks that a court can be established to try anyone who is accused within 3-6 months.

But opposition voices within Lebanon's political system say the real significance of this report is its much more cautious tone.

(The report) shows that the information gathered so far is insufficient to be able to indict or accuse anyone

Omar Nashabeh,
Pro-opposition al-Akhbar newspaper

It does not name the names of any suspects, or make any accusations concerning possible Syrian involvement.

"This report is a big deception for those who are excited about using the tribunal and the justice system for their political purposes," says Omar Nashabeh, a criminologist for the al-Akhbar newspaper, which supports the opposition.

"It shows that the information gathered so far is insufficient to be able to indict or accuse anyone."

Slow progress

Mr Nashabeh says it is also significant that the investigation is seeking help from 11 different countries.

In his view, that could imply that the network responsible for the assassination has extensive links outside of Syria and Lebanon.

This investigation still appears to be in an active phase.

The head of the UN team says that more evidence needs to be gathered before any trials can begin.

Most of the money has been raised to fund the first year of the tribunal, which will be set up in The Hague.

But the process of bringing any suspects to trial still seems a few months away.

It may yet deliver the justice that Mr Hariri's supporters have been demanding.

But equally, the whole process could inflame the smouldering tensions here.

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