Hezbollah has sustained a political blow in Lebanon: Representatives of the UN-backed special tribunal investigating the circumstances of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 yesterday presented the attorney general with arrest warrants for four senior Hezbollah figures in connection to the murder.
Israeli officials do not expect the developments in Lebanon to escalate tensions between Israel and Hezbollah. They say most of the implications are for Lebanon's domestic affairs.
Meanwhile, Saad Hariri, son of the assassinated prime minister, is staying away from Lebanon, probably in light of French warnings that Syria may try to assassinate him.
The four main suspects in Hariri's killing are Mustafa Bader al-Din, Hajj Salim Ayash, Hassan Anisi, and Sa'ad Sbara. Bader al-Din, 50, is considered a leader of Hezbollah and has been described as the second or third in command of the armed wing of the organization. He is the brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah figure who was assassinated in Damascus in February 2008.
Ayash, 48, is the chief of Hezbollah's special operations force.
The government of Lebanon is not expected to cooperate with the international tribunal and will not try to arrest the men. Lebanon's Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, said yesterday, "Every suspect is innocent until proven guilty."
The arrest warrants undermine Hezbollah's image in Lebanon, including among Shi'ites. It marks the first time that the international tribunal has officially recognized that the organization was involved in the killing of Hariri, even though the warrants are directed against the individuals and not the organization. On the other hand it is hard to imagine Bader al-Din and Ayash acted without approval from the leadership of the group.
Last summer, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah warned the group would not accept the efforts to blame it for the killing. At the time the Lebanese government, under Saad Hariri, collaborated with the international tribunal. However, Hariri's government was brought down and now most cabinet ministers belong to the political camp that is close to Hezbollah.
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