Lebanon’s ex-PM Hariri accuses Hezbollah of Beirut bomb attack
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Lebanon’s former prime minister Saad al-Hariri indirectly accused Hezbollah of responsibility for a Friday bomb attack that killed his adviser Mohamad Bahaa Chatah and four others.
In a statement, Hariri said that “as far as we are concerned the suspects...are those who are fleeing international justice and refusing to represent themselves before the international tribunal,” pointing to five Hezbollah suspects indicted for the 2005 killing of his father.
The trial of the five suspects is due to open in The Hague in January. The suspects are all fugitives and Hezbollah, which denies any role in the Hariri assassination, has refused to cooperate with the court which it says is politically motivated.
Hariri also described those behind the assassination as “the same ones who are opening the doors of evil and chaos into Lebanon” and “brought regional fires to our country,” in a clear reference to Hezbollah’s participation in Syria’s civil war.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the early morning bombing, nor was it clear that Chatah was the intended target.
Chatah’s ID card found at blast scene
Chatah, a prominent economist and former ambassador to the United States, was a close aide to former premier Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a truck bombing in Beirut not far from Friday’s explosion.
Chatah served as finance minister when Hariri’s son Saad took over as Lebanon’s prime minister and stayed on as his senior adviser after his government collapsed in early 2011, when Hezbollah ministers and their allies resigned from the cabinet en masse.
A correspondent from FRANCE 24’s Arabic channel confirmed that Lebanese security forces had recovered an ID card from the site belonging to Chatah.
Televised reports showed pictures of thick smoke near the Serail, a major commercial district filled with shops, banks and restaurants and the area where Lebanon’s prime minister has his offices.
Footage broadcast by Future TV showed people on fire and others lying on the ground as well as fires blazing at several other points while ambulances rushed to the scene.
The army cordoned off the area to prevent people from getting close to the site of the attack, where the twisted wreckage of several cars was still smouldering.
The explosion appeared to be the result of the car bomb, but security officials said they had no immediate confirmation.
Both the UN and the US condemned the bombing.
US Secretary of State John Kerry Kerry called it an "abhorrent terrorist attack", adding the United States will back Lebanon as it seeks to hunt down "those responsible for this heinous and cowardly attack."
An hour before he was killed, Chatah – a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah – tweeted a message slamming the group.
“Hezbollah is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security and foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 years,” he wrote.
The bombing recalled a string of assassinations of members of the anti-Syrian Hariri camp between 2004 and 2008, the biggest of which was the massive suicide bombing in 2005 in downtown Beirut - not far from the site of Friday’s blast - that killed Hariri’s father, Rafik, also a former prime minister.
The conflict in neighbouring Syria has raised tensions between Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite communities as each supports their brethren on opposite sides of the civil conflict.
The divide has fueled speculation that Lebanon, still recovering from its own 15-year-long civil war that ended in 1990, is on the brink of descending into full-blown sectarian violence.
Beirut has been targeted by several deadly attacks in recent months, including twin bombings in November that targeted the Iranian embassy and blasts in a Hezbollah stronghold in the south of the capital.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)