UN-backed Court Criticizes Hezbollah Call to Boycott Hariri Investigation

Controversy flaring over tribunal in wake of Beirut 'attack' on investigators of former Lebanese prime minister's assassination.

A call by Shi'ite Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to boycott a UN-backed investigation into the 2005 assassination of statesman Rafik al-Hariri is an "attempt to obstruct justice," the tribunal said on Friday.

Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah urged Lebanese on Thursday to halt cooperation with the inquiry and accused its investigators of sending information to Israel, the latest escalation in a war of words over the inquiry which threatens to plunge the country into more turmoil.

nasrallah - AP - August 9, 2010

Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, stepped up its campaign against the tribunal after reports emerged in recent months that the court's prosecutor may indict members of the group, possibly early next year.

"Any call to boycott the tribunal is an attempt to obstruct justice," a representative of the tribunal told Reuters. "The Special Tribunal for Lebanon will continue to rely on the full cooperation of the Lebanese government and the international community, according to its statute."

Nasrallah spoke out after two international investigators were forced by a crowd of women to leave a doctor's clinic in southern Beirut, a bastion of Hezbollah, where they had made an appointment to review files.

The tribunal condemned what it called an "attack on its staff" and said it would not be deterred from its investigation.

"Attack on the Lebanese government"

Hezbollah, part of a fragile national unity government, has been trying to press Sunni Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Rafik's son, into repudiating the tribunal, which the group considers a tool of U.S. and Israeli policy.

The Lebanese government has not made any statement following the comments of Nasrallah and the tribunal.

However, anti-Syrian Christian leader Samir Geagea, who is a member of the "March 14" coalition that Hariri heads, said Nasrallah's comments were "an attack on the Lebanese government."

Nasrallah said it was scandalous that investigators had sought the medical files of women at the clinic, and warned that any further cooperation with the tribunal would be considered "an aggression against the resistance."

The UN Security Council set up the tribunal in May 2007 and it has yet to indict anyone in Hariri's assassination.

UN investigators had first implicated senior Syrian and pro-Syrian Lebanese officials. But last year four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals who had been arrested by Lebanese authorities at the investigators' behest were released without charge for lack of evidence.

The killing of Hariri and 22 others in a massive suicide truck bombing by Beirut's seafront provoked an international outcry against Syria, forcing it to end a 29-year military presence in Lebanon.

Syria and Hezbollah have both denied any involvement in Hariri's assassination.

The tribunal has stirred up political turmoil in the past. In November 2006, Hezbollah and its allies withdrew their ministers from the cabinet after the anti-Syrian majority coalition rejected their demands for more say in government.

The anti-Syrian majority said Hezbollah and its allies had quit to derail plans for an international tribunal, and a protracted crisis ensued.