AMSTERDAM – AMSTERDAM (AP) — The U.N.-appointed prosecutor investigating the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri asked Hezbollah militants Wednesday to hand over evidence they say implicates Israel in the murder.
The request from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon follows claims by Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah this week that Israel was responsible for the fatal truck bombing in the Lebanese capital. Israel called the allegations "ridiculous lies."
Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare asked Nasrallah for the video he screened at a news conference on Monday, described by the Hezbollah leader as intercepted Israeli aerial reconnaissance tapes from the 1990s up to 2005. He said it showed places frequented by Hariri, including the street where he died along with 22 others.
The tribunal said Bellemare's office, which is mandated to investigate as well as prosecute suspects, would conduct its inquiry base on "evidence and nothing else."
"I welcome any evidence that can bring us closer to the truth," Bellemare said, but insisted that "nobody can influence the direction" of his investigation.
The tribunal, based outside The Hague, is widely expected to issue its first indictments in the case later this year. Nasrallah has said he expects some of his followers to be among the suspects, which he described as politically motivated.
Many Lebanese worry that if the tribunal draws links between the assassination and Hezbollah, a Shiite movement, it could provoke bloodshed between Lebanon's Shiite and Sunni communities. Hariri was Sunni.
Two weeks ago, the leaders of Syria and Saudi Arabia, President Bashar Assad and King Abdullah, who were once bitter rivals for influence in Lebanon, made an extraordinary joint visit to Beirut that underscored the depth of Arab concern over the chaos that could be revived by the tribunal's decisions.
Earlier this year the court summoned a dozen Hezbollah members and supporters for questioning, and Nasrallah said investigators were likely to interview more of his followers after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ends around Sept. 10.
Initially suspicion fell on Syria after the killing in February 2005, since Hariri had been seeking to weaken the domination of his country by Damascus.
Four pro-Syrian Lebanese officers were jailed without charge in Lebanon for nearly four years, but were freed last year for lack of evidence.
One of the generals, Jamil al-Sayyed, asked the tribunal in July to release his secret case file so that he may know who accused him. A decision is expected next month.
Hariri was Lebanon's most prominent politician since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990. His death set off political turmoil in Lebanon that led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops after almost 30 years of military presence.
The tribunal, set up by the U.N. Security Council in 2007, is comprised of seven foreign and four Lebanese judges, and is grounded in Lebanese law. The court is based in a suburb of The Hague to ensure the safety of the staff and an impartial trial.