BEIRUT: The United States expressed its concern on Friday about acts that could destabilize Lebanon’s stability, while voicing support to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) as an independent organization established to put an end to an era of political assassinations.
“A strong, sovereign, and stable Lebanon is in the interests of all – the Lebanese people, the region, the United States and the international community, and we are concerned by any act that would undermine this sovereignty and stability,” US Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly said.
“The US echoes the statements issued by the UN Secretary General and the governments of France, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in support of the STL. We believe that the tribunal should complete its work by its own timeline and without foreign interference,” the ambassador added.
The US ambassador, who also held talks with President Michel Sleiman and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, made her remarks following a meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the latter’s residence in downtown Beirut.
Connelly told reporters that the work of the court as a non-political organization should continue until those behind former Premier Rafik Hariri’s murder are brought to justice.
Internal debate over the issue of the STL continued on Friday ahead of a Cabinet meeting scheduled for Tuesday to discuss the issue of false witnesses.
While opposition lawmakers tied the credibility of the STL’s work to the conclusion of investigations into false witnesses prior to the release of any indictment, Future Movement MPs said the issue was a of secondary importance compared to investigations by the STL to uncover the truth behind the murder.
In a surprise statement, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir told reporters that false witnesses must be held accountable.
“Of course giving a false testimony is a rejected matter and by religion as well but if some people want to give false testimonies they should assume the repercussions,” Sfeir said, adding that false witnesses should be put on trial.
“If some are betting on delaying the issue of false witnesses and authorizing their accusations he is an illusionist because there is no place for any accusation that is not based first on the result of investigations of false witnesses,” Hizbullah’s Second-in-Command Sheikh Naim Qassem said.
Qassem also questioned the STL for failing to consider evidence presented by Hizbullah that could lead to accusations being leveled at Israel.
“Let them start working on this evidence and say later that it contains flaws or mistakes but that demands first accusing Israel and investigating it … but they will not dare because they insist Israel should remain out of the circle [of suspicion],” Qassem added.
Opposition parties have doubted the credibility of the STL and that of the former UN Investigation Committee that preceded it. They have cast doubt
on the court by slamming former witnesses, because their testimonies, which were later recanted, led to the arrest of Lebanon’s top four security officers in 2005. The officers were later released by the STL for lack of evidence.
But Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat reiterated that March 14 parties backed the investigation of false witnesses, including those who tampered with the crime scene and misled investigations. “Who invented Ahmad Abu Adass and the Australian pilgrims?” Fatfat asked. He added that certain parties were attempting to exploit the issue of false witnesses to divert attention away from the major issue, the assassination of Rafik Hariri.
Fatfat’s colleague, Jamal Al-Jarrah, said the former head of the Internal Security Forces, Ali Al-Hajj, was the first to mislead investigations after suggesting Abu Adass and his affiliates had a role in the murder.
On Tuesday, the Cabinet is scheduled to discuss a report by the Justice Ministry on the legal framework for prosecuting witnesses.