Hezbollah blames Israel in Hariri assassination
Not solid proof, Hezbollah leader admits, while Israel dismisses claim
The leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah has presented aerial reconnaissance footage 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 Shia Muslim group battled Israel in a month-long 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 late Monday 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 Shia followers of Hezbollah.
The two sides have clashed before following political power struggles. In May 2008, Hezbollah gunmen swept through Sunni pro-government neighbourhoods of Beirut, raising the threat of a new civil war.
Israel swiftly dismissed Hezbollah's allegations.
"Nasrallah's accusations against Israel are ridiculous lies," said Yossi Levy, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry.
Bombing led to Syrian withdrawal
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 co-operate 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.