BEIRUT: Lebanese politicians and international diplomats welcomed the start of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Thursday, voicing hope that it would bring an end to the unrest that has plagued the country and the region since former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination in 2005.
The STL began its first trial at The Hague Thursday morning in the presence of Lebanese officials and some of the victims from the Feb. 14, 2005, suicide bombing which killed Hariri and 21 others in Downtown Beirut.
In 2011, The U.N.-backed court indicted four members of Hezbollah for involvement in the killing and last year accused a fifth member of the resistance group of complicity in the attack, which was followed by a series of political assassinations of Lebanese figures.
Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel said the trial was the “the last chance” to figure out the actual events behind the Hariri assassination, and that it was “a start in finding out who murdered the politicians since 2005 up until today, including Pierre Gemayel and Antoine Ghanem.”
Speaking to Al-Arabiya from The Hague, Gemayel added that new information could emerge through the tribunal, but that much has already been made clear.
Gemayel also said that by understanding how such assassinations are prepared, it is possible for prominent figures in the country to better protect themselves.
He added that if Hezbollah was indeed implicated, it would be difficult for the party to deny it.
“The five defendants belong to a political party known for the extreme commitment of its constituents, and if it is proved that these five are actually involved, it will be hard for Hezbollah to feign innocence, and we have told Hezbollah since the beginning that if it wasn’t involved, why provide cover for the criminals and defend them?” he said.
Sidon MP Bahia Hariri said Thursday that the loss of Rafik Hariri was “irreparable,” and stressed that “our adherence to justice is for the sake of Lebanon’s stability and civil peace.”
She also said the assassination of the former prime minister was an attempt to assassinate Lebanon as a whole, “so the justice we seek is the justice for an entire nation.”
National Liberal Party leader Dory Chamoun said the most important thing was that the court identified the five suspects, who were Hezbollah members.
Also Thursday, Mufti of Tripoli and the North Sheikh Malek Shaar said he hoped Hezbollah would cooperate with the tribunal.
He also expressed hope that all Lebanese would approach the court with “equanimity, without feelings of revenge or retaliation, as we seek to build a country and reach an air of security and stability, and this cannot be achieved unless all Lebanese agree that justice is the way to do it.”
Meanwhile, Future Movement MP Kazem al-Khair said it was a “historic day for Lebanon as the Special Tribunal starts its work after tens of years of political assassinations.”
Future MP Mohammad Mrad said that while the tribunal couldn’t take away the crimes, it could re-establish the principle of stability.
He added that one of the tribunal’s goals was to identify and persecute the criminals, and with the trials underway, it was now apparent that those behind Hariri’s assassination made “strenuous efforts through multiple and [various] means to obstruct the investigation.”
March 14 official Marwan Hamadeh, who survived an assassination attempt in 2004, noted the importance of holding the trial.
“The criminals should be punished and we should know who they are and who gave them their orders so we can stop the series of crimes plaguing the country,” he said in a radio interview from The Hague.
Meanwhile, British Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa Hugh Robertson said he welcomed the start of the trials, adding that he hoped “it will help achieve justice for the families of Rafik Hariri, the other victims and for the Lebanese people.”
“The U.K. strongly supports the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. I was pleased to announce an additional 1 million pounds of U.K. funding in December, bringing our total contribution to 5.5 million pounds since 2009,” Robertson said in a statement.
He stressed that Britain would keep supporting the tribunal’s call for the perpetrators’ arrest, and stood firmly behind Lebanese efforts to end the culture of impunity.
However, former General Security chief Jamil Sayyed, who was also present at The Hague Thursday, said that the tribunal “lacked credibility in the eyes of many” and “the only solution in order to regain its credibility was to resolve the issue of false witnesses.”
He said that “nothing new was brought up in the trial today.”
Sayyed was among four former military and intelligence officers arrested in 2005 at the request of STL Prosecutor Detlev Mehlis.
The four were released by STL pretrial Judge Daniel Fransen four years later due to lack of evidence.
Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali said that the Special Tribunal needed to work toward addressing the situation in Lebanon and the region as a whole, “and seek real justice rather than manipulate it.”
“The region has had enough toying around with security. Israeli and Western greed that stands behind it was responsible for the bombings which claimed the lives of the martyr Hariri,” he added following a meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri.
The ambassador also said that it was necessary to study the facts from a logical perspective to unmask the criminals who benefitted from the attack.