Ex-Lebanese PM urges Hezbollah to turn in members

AP News
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Posted: Jul 12, 2011 4:00 PM
Ex-Lebanese PM urges Hezbollah to turn in members

The son of assassinated Prime Minister Rafik Hariri urged Lebanon to arrest four Hezbollah members accused in his father's 2005 murder and warned that the country will "will pay the price" if the militant group protects the men.

An international tribunal investigating the killing indicted the Hezbollah members in late June, but the group's leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has vowed never to allow Lebanese authorities to arrest them.

Saad Hariri, also a former prime minister, said the Iran-backed Hezbollah cannot change the course of justice.

"If they (Hezbollah) do not want to cooperate they are free, but Lebanon will pay the price," he told Lebanon's private MTV station from Paris, where he has been residing for the past few months.

The interview was his first public appearance since the indictments were released.

Hariri did not elaborate, but he appeared to be hinting at possible international sanctions if the Lebanese government fails to cooperate with the tribunal or arrest the Hezbollah members.

Hezbollah, which commands its own arsenal, is Lebanon's most powerful military and political force. Its alleged role in the Hariri assassination threatens to trigger a potentially violent crisis in this Arab nation.

Nasrallah has denounced the six-year investigation as a plot by Israel and the United States targeting the group.

The debate over the indictments has polarized Lebanon's rival political factions, with Hezbollah and its allies pitted against a Western-backed bloc headed by Saad Hariri. It also has deepened bitter tensions between Sunnis and Shiites.

Rafik Hariri was one of Lebanon's most powerful Sunni leaders; Hezbollah is a Shiite militant group.

Hezbollah has amassed unprecedented political clout in the government this year, having toppled the previous administration in January when Saad Hariri _ who was prime minister at the time _ refused to renounce the tribunal.

The new premier, Najib Mikati, was Hezbollah's pick for the post. He issued a vague promise earlier this month that Lebanon would respect international resolutions as long as they did not threaten domestic security.

The ambiguous wording leaves room to brush aside the arrest warrants if street battles are looming.

Hariri repeated his intention to try to force the collapse of Mikati's government and said organizing street demonstrations were one option.

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Zeina Karam can be reached on http://twitter.com/zkaram