Lebanon PM retracts Syria charge

Saad al-Hariri says his previous claim that Damascus was behind his father's assassination was politically motivated.

    Hariri, left, has sought to mend relations with Damascus, visiting al-Assad, right, several times in the last year [AFP]

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

    Saad al-Hariri's comments to Asharq al-Awsat, a London-based newspaper, published on Monday, repudiate 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, which was supported by an initial United Nations report in 2005, which implicated Syrian security forces in the attack.

    Damascus rejected the UN report, saying it was "100 per cent politically biased".

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

    Rafik al-Hariri had called for such a withdrawal for years.

    Hariri has since attempted to mend relations with Damascus, visiting al-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 Asharq al-Awsat.

    "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."

    Tribunal backed

    Rula Amin, AL Jazeera's correspondent in Beirut, said: "We have to remember this is not a very surprising turnaround.

    "He [Hariri] has been reaching out to Syria and the Syrian president in the past years since he took office and became Lebanon's prime minister.

    "He [Hariri] went to Damascus about four times, he met with the Syrian president who drove him around Damascus in his own car, had dinner together, hosted him in his own palace.

    "We have to also remember the political picture here has changed in the region. When he [Hariri] accused Syria, Syria was isolated, the US was trying to isolate it, trying even to change the regime there.

    "Now Syria has emerged from its isolation as a very strong player in the region ... and so he [Hariri] has to adjust."

    Rafik al-Hariri's killing remains a highly charged issue in Lebanon, with a UN tribunal continuing investigations into the assassination.

    In July, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia movement, said he expected the tribunal to indict members of his movement for involvement in the killing.

    Nasrallah has dismissed the tribunal as an Israeli project, but Hariri, who leads Lebanon's fragile national unity government, which includes Hezbollah ministers, has defended the tribunal's independence.

    "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 newpaper.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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