Hezbollah 'dragging fires of Syria to our country': Hariri
Assad 'destroying Syria on the heads of Syrians,' son says on anniversary of father's murder
Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri called on the militant Hezbollah group on Saturday to withdraw from Syria, saying their involvement in the civil war next door has backfired into Lebanon.
Hariri returned earlier in the day to Lebanon from self-imposed exile to mark the 10th anniversary of his father's assassination, a slaying that sharply divided Lebanon. Rafik Hariri was killed with 21 others in massive truck bomb on a Beirut seaside road on Feb. 14, 2005.
Hariri is a harsh critic of Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom he accused in his speech Saturday of "destroying Syria on the heads of Syrians."
Hezbollah has sent fighters to Syria to back Assad's forces against rebels trying to remove him from power. The armed intervention in Syria earned the Shia group the enmity of Syria's predominantly Sunni rebels. Assad is a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.
"Withdraw from Syria. Stop dragging the fires from Syria to our country, at times from terrorism and at other times from the Golan and tomorrow from we don't know where," Hariri said, referring to a wave of bombings that hit Lebanon over the past year, killing dozens.
Hariri's comments came as Syrian troops and Hezbollah are on the offensive in an attempt to capture rebel-held areas on the edge of the Golan.
Last month, an Israeli helicopter attack destroyed a unit near the front line of the Golan Heights killing seven, including an Iranian general. Hezbollah struck back from south Lebanon killing two Israeli soldiers and wounding seven.
Hariri's father was Lebanon's most prominent Sunni politician. A United Nations-backed tribunal is trying in absentia five members of the militant Hezbollah group, the country's most powerful Shia faction, for the bombing.
Hariri said Hezbollah's refusal to hand over the suspects is a main reason behind Sunni-Shia tensions in the country.
Saturday's visit marks Hariri's second return to Lebanon after four years in self-imposed exile, after visiting briefly in August. He left Lebanon in January 2011 after his government was brought down by Hezbollah and its allies.
Flowers mark grave
Earlier Saturday, scores of Lebanese queued to lay white and red flowers at Rafik Hariri's grave next to the central Mohammad al-Amin mosque in the capital, some breaking down in tears and others posing for photographs beside large posters of the slain statesman.
Five members of Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah have been indicted over his killing by an international tribunal in The Hague, which is being closely watched in Lebanon. The trial in absentia began in January 2014, and Hezbollah has denied any involvement in the killing.
The assassination pushed Hariri's son Saad into political life. He remains Lebanon's most influential Sunni politician, despite leaving the country in 2011 after his government was toppled by a coalition including Hezbollah. He splits his time between Saudi Arabia and France, who support him.
Despite the animosity between the two groups, Hariri's Future Movement is now working with Hezbollah to contain sectarian tensions back in Lebanon that have been exacerbated by the war in Syria.
The four-year-old Syrian conflict involves overwhelmingly Sunni insurgents who oppose Assad, a member of the Shia-derived Alawite minority, and allied Shia groups including Hezbollah.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry commemorated Hariri in a statement late on Friday, saying the man known as "Mr Lebanon" had given his country hope during its "darkest days."
"He stood for peaceful change and the resolution of differences through conversations — not carnage," Kerry said.
"Ten years ago today, he was assassinated because some feared he might succeed."
The bomb that killed him, packed in a Mitsubishi van filled with the equivalent of 2.5 tons of high explosive, was detonated by a still unidentified suicide bomber. The bomb killed 21 others and wounded more than 200 as it ripped through a busy street.
with files from Reuters