The UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 killing of statesman Rafiq al-Hariri has accused Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese political group, of attempting to obstruct justice by calling on Lebanese to halt co-operation with the inquiry.
Antonio Cassese, the tribunal president and judge, sent letters on Friday to the UN secretary-general and the Lebanese prime minister conveying the court’s "great concern" about Wednesday’s incident.
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, issued the boycott call after two international investigators were forced by a crowd of women on Wednesday to leave a doctor’s clinic in southern Beirut, a bastion of Hezbollah, where they had made an appointment to review files.
"Any call to boycott the tribunal to prevent it from fulfilling its mandate is a deliberate attempt to obstruct justice," a statement from the prosecutor’s office said.
It also said it expected co-operation to continue in accordance with the tribunal’s statute and Lebanese laws.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, added his voice to the condemnation of the Beirut incident, saying that "such acts of interference and intimidation are unacceptable", according to Martin Nesirky, a UN spokesman.
Pressure on Hariri
Hezbollah, a mainly Shia Muslim-backed group which is part of a coalition government, has been pressuring Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim prime minister, to diavow the court, which it considers a tool of US and Israeli policy.
Nasrallah said the UN investigators were passing information to Israel, in the latest escalation in a war of words over the inquiry which threatens to plunge the country into more turmoil.
Hezbollah stepped up its campaign against the tribunal after Lebanese officials and diplomats said the court’s prosecutor may indict members of the group, possibly early next year.
Referring to Wednesday’s incident, Nasrallah said it was scandalous that the investigators had sought the medical files of women at the clinic, and warned that any further co-operation with the tribunal would be considered "an aggression against the resistance (Hezbollah)".
The office of the prosecutor said the visit had been approved by Lebanese authorities and that the investigators were not seeking medical information from the doctor.
Hariri Allies Respond
Ahmed Fatfat, an MP from the ruling Future bloc, said Nasrallah’s comments amounted to a call to "revolt against the international community".
"Accepting this request pits the Lebanese government against the international community," he told local radio.
"If the Lebanese government abides by what Nasrallah is calling for, Lebanon will … eventually turn into a country that rejects international resolution."
Samir Geagea, whose Lebanese Forces are an important Hariri ally, called on the president and prime minister to schedule an emergency meeting on the issue.
"Co-operation with the tribunal is also at the heart of the current cabinet’s policy statement," Geagea told Al-Arabiya television.
"This is a threat to the Lebanese government, as the government is the first to co-operate with the investigators through its memorandum of understanding with the Security Council."
"We denounce this surprising, incomprehensible position."
The killing of Rafiq al-Hariri and 22 others in a suicide bombing sparked an international outcry against Syria, forcing it to end a three-decade military presence in Lebanon.
The Security Council approved setting up the tribunal in May 2007 and it has yet to indict anyone over the attack, which both Syria and Hezbollah have denied any involvement in.
The leaders of Syria and Saudi Arabia paid a joint visit to Beirut in July to calm tension over the tribunal, which some politicians have warned could push the country into a sectarian war.
(Agencies via Aljazeera.net English)