Lebanon prime minister says it was mistake to accuse Syria of killing his father, Rafik Hariri

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's Western-backed prime minister made a startling reversal Monday and said it was a mistake to accuse Syria of the massive 2005 truck bombing that killed his father, claiming the charge was politically motivated.

Those accusations by anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians that quickly followed the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri galvanized hundreds of thousands of their supporters to take to the streets in a powerful protest movement. It drove tens of thousands of Syrian troops out of Lebanon and ended decades of Syrian domination over its smaller neighbor.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who has been working recently to mend ties with Syria, says the determination of who killed his father should be made by the international tribunal investigating the crime.

In the months after his father's death, Hariri accused Damascus of direct responsibility for killing his father and several anti-Syrian officials and journalists. Rafik Hariri, a billionaire businessman and political leader, had been trying to limit Syria's domination of Lebanon in the months before his death.

The younger Hariri was a businessman at the time and became prime minister last year.

"This was a political accusation, and this political accusation has ended," Hariri told the Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq al-Awsat in an interview published Monday. "I don't know what will be in the indictment and I cannot intervene in that, nobody can. All that I ask for is the truth and justice."

Though more than five years have passed since the killing that shook Lebanon, there is no international consensus on who was really behind it.

A Netherlands-based U.N. tribunal has been set up to try those responsible for Hariri's killing but has not yet named any individuals or countries as suspects. In July, the leader of Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah announced that he expected the tribunal to indict members of his movement. But he dismissed the allegations and said the tribunal has no credibility.

The first U.N. investigator into the Hariri assassination, Germany's Detlev Mehlis, said the plot's complexity suggested a role by the Syrian intelligence services and its pro-Syria Lebanese counterpart. But the two chief investigators who followed Mehlis have worked quietly and have not named any individuals or countries as suspects.

Saad Hariri's comments Monday are part of a remarkable reconciliation between Lebanon and Syria. Hariri has worked to mend ties with Damascus over the past year, traveling to Syria five times.

Hariri's explicit repudiation of blaming Syria removes one major obstacle to closer ties. It also comes at a time when Hariri and his Western-backed political bloc are struggling to maintain momentum as Syria's allies in Lebanon — the Shiite militant group Hezbollah — gain influence.

Syria continues to wield influence in Lebanon through its backing of Hezbollah, which is a partner in Lebanon's fragile national unity government. In just a few years, Hezbollah has gained so much political strength it now has a virtual veto power over government decisions.

The protests that drove out Syria, know as the "Cedar Revolution," gave rise to the U.S.- and Saudi-backed coalition known as March 14, named for a day of massive anti-Syrian demonstrations in 2005.

The assassination deepened a rift between Syria and Saudi Arabia. Each backed rival sides in the ensuing power struggle that nearly tore Lebanon apart: Syria backing a Hezbollah-led coalition, and Saudi Arabia and the United States supporting Hariri's Sunni-led coalition.