Hariri acknowledged he was wrong in accusing Syria and promised to start a new chapter [AFP]

Lebanon's prime minister has said he was wrong in accusing Syria of assassinating his father, Rafik al-Hariri, in 2005 and said the charge against Damascus was politically motivated.

Saad al-Hariri's comments to the London-based 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 Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, to withdraw troops from Lebanon and end nearly three decades of military presence there.

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

Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chief, 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, have 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.

Source: Agencies