BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese officials said on Monday they expected a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri to issue indictments soon.
The long-awaited indictments are expected to accuse members of Shi'ite group Hezbollah of involvement in the killing and have already triggered a political crisis which brought down the government of Hariri's son, Saad al-Hariri, in January.
Hezbollah, which denies any role in the 2005 assassination, and its allies resigned from Hariri's unity government just days before the tribunal prosecutor filed his indictments to a pre-trial judge on January 17.
The indictments, twice amended since then, have remained secret while the pre-trial judge assessed whether there was enough evidence to proceed with a trial.
A spokesman for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) declined to comment on reports in two pan-Arab newspapers that the indictments would be issued within two days. One of them, Asharq al-Awsat, said five Hezbollah members would be indicted. "The STL has no comment to make about the content of the indictment," spokesman Marten Youssef said.
"The integrity of the STL proceedings requires that legal considerations alone determine if and when the tribunal will make any announcement about the completion of the review process," he said.
Lebanese officials said they expected the indictments to be issued this week or next, but gave no details.
An official source said Lebanese judges who are part of the tribunal had left Lebanon. Local media said this could be a precautionary move to ensure their safety when the indictments were issued.
Hariri was killed by a huge truck bomb, triggering international condemnation that forced neighboring Syria to end a 29-year military presence in Lebanon.
Six months after the February 14, 2005, assassination, four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals were arrested at the request of the U.N. investigator. A report delivered to the U.N. Security Council initial findings implicated high-ranking Syrian and Lebanese officials in the murder.
The generals were released in 2009 for lack of evidence.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has since said that the group expects some of its members to be accused by the tribunal, which it describes as a tool of Israel.
Hezbollah pulled out of Saad al-Hariri's government after he rejected its demands to cut ties with the tribunal, withdraw the Lebanese judges and end Lebanon's contribution to its budget.
(Reporting by Mariam Karouny and Dominic Evans)