The guilty verdict against Selim Ayyash and acquittal of three other alleged conspirators in the trial of Hizbullah members charged with the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri will deepen divisions as the country mourns the victims of the August 4th explosions in Beirut port.
While the acquittals will disappoint Lebanese seeking an end to impunity for political killings, president Michel Aoun said: "We have to accept what will be issued by the [special tribunal] although delayed justice is not justice."
To prevent "reactions on the ground" from supporters of Hariri's party, legislator Mohamed Hajjar said: "Mustaqbal wants truth, not revenge. We won't allow the verdict to drag the country into any internal troubles."
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to hand over none of the men on trial to Lebanon's authorities.
The tribunal’s verdict will intensify the current Hizbullah-focused blame game being played by competing factions. Although the entire political elite is responsible for the country’s economic ruin, Hizbullah and its allies Aoun and parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri have faced sharp criticism from opponents, particularly the party headed by the murdered PM’s son Saad.
Since the blast, detractors have claimed Hizbullah controlled the port, although all main political factions operated there and benefited from corruption. Consequently, they are equally guilty of causing the massive explosion that killed 200 and made 300,000 homeless by neglecting more than 2,7000 tonnes of weapons-grade ammonium nitrate stored with other flammable material in warehouse 12.
The court on Tuesday ruled there is no proof that Hizbullah's leadership or Syria were involved in Hariri's assassination. Syria was quickly accused after the murder since Hariri had said that president Bashar al-Assad threatened him for opposing an extension for pro-Damascus, pro-Hizbullah president Emile Lahoud, whose term was to end in 2004.
Hariri and Lahoud fell out when Lahoud appointed Selim Hoss prime minister instead of him.
From the start, tribunal investigations were mired in controversy. Parliament member Jamil Sayyed, a former head of Lebanese security who was detained as a suspect, cleared and released after four years, told al-Jazeera: "The goal was to show that Syria and its allies killed Hariri and [investigators] looked for evidence to support these claims."
Syria denied involvement and argued Hariri was due in Damascus on the evening of his death to resolve differences. During meetings with me in Damascus three days later, the Syrian information and expatriates ministers reiterated that this was the case.
In Beirut, I interviewed a UN official who was told by Hariri that he intended to go to Damascus during a meeting at a cafe minutes before his murder. Asked if she could confirm this, Hariri’s sister Bahia said she did not know about Damascus but considered it unlikely he would have refused an overture from Syria. In a formal statement faxed to my hotel, she said he wanted to have a “well-balanced relationship with Syria” which would “benefit both countries”.
Syria was blamed and compelled by international pressure to withdraw troops deployed in Lebanon early in the 1976-90 civil war at the request of Lebanon's president Suleiman Frangieh. Lahoud's presidential term was extended until 2007.