Hezbollah leader presents material he says implicates Israel in Hariri's assassination
BEIRUT – BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah militants presented aerial reconnaissance footage Monday that he said implicates Israel in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
But Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who has been in hiding since his Shiite Muslim group battled Israel in a monthlong 2006 war, acknowledged the material was not absolute proof.
"This is evidence, indications ... that open new horizons for the investigations," Nasrallah said at a lengthy press conference in which he spoke to reporters via satellite link.
The speech comes as pressure is mounting on Hezbollah over a Netherlands-based tribunal investigating Hariri's assassination, which is set to issue indictments this year. If Hezbollah is indicted, there are fears it could spark riots between the Sunni supporters of Hariri and Shiite followers of Hezbollah.
The two sides have clashed before following political power struggles. In May 2008, Hezbollah gunmen swept through Sunni pro-government neighborhoods of Beirut, raising the threat of a new civil war.
Israel immediately dismissed Hezbollah's accusations.
"The international community, the Arab world, and most importantly, the people of Lebanon all know that these accusations are simply ridiculous," a senior Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no government statement was made.
Hariri was killed in a massive Valentine's Day truck bombing in 2005 that many in Lebanon blamed on Syria, which backs Hezbollah. Syria denies any involvement in the assassination.
Hariri, a billionaire businessman credited with rebuilding Lebanon after its 15-year civil war, had been trying to limit Syria's domination of Lebanon in the months before his assassination.
The killing sparked massive anti-Syrian protests in Lebanon, dubbed the "Cedar Revolution," which led to Syria's withdrawal.
Nasrallah said the tapes shown Monday were intercepted by Hezbollah between the 1990s and 2005, and showed Israeli reconnaissance footage of areas frequented by Hariri, including where he died. He said this proved Israel was tracking his movements for purposes of assassination.
Asked why he was presenting the material at a press conference as opposed to the tribunal, Nasrallah said: "I do not cooperate with parties that I do not trust."
The tribunal has not said who will be charged, but Nasrallah said last month he already knows that Hezbollah members will be among them. His July 22 announcement appeared to be an attempt to soften the impact of any charges.
He has said the tribunal has no credibility and is simply an "Israeli project," and that his group will not turn over any of its members for trial.
In response to questions about why Nasrallah chose to offer the material five years after Hariri's assassination, he said the recent arrests of scores of Lebanese agents who were spying for Israel since last year has yielded information proving Israel's deep involvement in a number of assassinations in the country.
Nasrallah said his group also has just learned of an Israeli spy who had been scouting the area of the assassination just a day before the truck bomb that killed Hariri exploded. The spy, however, fled before authorities could arrest him.