BEIRUT: The trial of five Hezbollah suspects accused of complicity in the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will resume on June 18, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s trial chamber announced Monday.
The majority decision by the U.N.-backed court will end a temporary break in the trial intended to give defense lawyers for Hasan Habib Merhi, a member of Hezbollah indicted just last summer by the court, enough time to prepare their case.
David Re, the presiding judge of the trial chamber, said the court had to balance the rights of the suspects with trial needs without unnecessary delays.
The STL is tasked with investigating the 2005 Valentine’s Day bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others and plunged Lebanon into political turmoil.
The court initially indicted four members of Hezbollah in the case and began their trial in January.
But Merhi, a fifth member of the group, was indicted last summer and his trial joined to the other suspects.
Merhi is accused of being one of the leaders of the assassination team and helping orchestrate a false claim of responsibility for the attack.
The resumption of trial is aimed at giving defense lawyers more time to prepare more contentious parts of the case, including the telecommunications evidence amassed against Merhi and his alleged role in the conspiracy to assassinate Hariri.
The hearings that will resume in June will include 25 witnesses divided into three groups.
In the first phase, five witnesses will testify about the underwater search near the St. George Hotel for fragments from the site of the explosion, as well as the identification and collection of human remains at the scene and the activities of law enforcement agencies there.
The second group will include experts in forensics and DNA evidence, as well as three witnesses who will testify about collecting fragments of the Mitsubishi van that was allegedly used to destroy Hariri’s convoy. The group will also include a seismologist whose equipment registered a tremor caused by the Hariri bombing.
The last group will include witnesses who are expected to testify on the nature of the explosion and the size of the resulting crater.