Lebanon PM: I Was Wrong to Accuse Syria of Rafik Hariri Murder

Lebanese Prime Minister says tribunal investigating assassination of senior Hariri will focus on facts, not political grudges.

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Lebanon's prime minister said he was wrong to accuse Syria of killing his father, Rafik Hariri, in 2005, and said the charge against Damascus had been politically motivated.

Lebanese Prime Minister Said Hariri, Beirut, May 20, 2010Credit: AP

Saad Hariri's comments to Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, published on Monday, were the clearest repudiation to date of his earlier accusation that Syria was behind the Beirut bombing which killed his father and 22 others five years ago. Syria had repeatedly denied the charge.

The assassination provoked a domestic and international outcry which forced Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to withdraw troops from Lebanon, ending nearly three decades of military presence in its smaller neighbor.

Hariri has since mended relations with Damascus, visiting Assad several times in the last year and stressing Lebanon's need for strong ties with Syria.

"We assessed the mistakes that we made with Syria, that harmed the Syrian people and relations between the two countries," Hariri told the newspaper.

"At a certain stage we made mistakes and accused Syria of assassinating the martyred premier. This was a political accusation, and this political accusation has finished."

Rafik Hariri's killing remains a highly charged issue in Lebanon. A United Nations investigation initially implicated Syria, but media reports have said that the United Nations prosecutor may issue indictments against members of the militant Shi'ite group Hezbollah. Hezbollah denies any involvement.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has dismissed the UN tribunal as an Israeli project, but Hariri has defended the court's independence.

Arguments over the tribunal's credibility, and the prospect of possible Hezbollah indictments, has shaken Lebanon's fragile national unity government which is led by Hariri and includes Hezbollah ministers.

"The tribunal is not linked to the political accusations which were hasty... The tribunal will only look at evidence," Hariri was quoted as saying by the newspaper.