(Reuters) – The leader of Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group said Sunday he expected many members of his group would be indicted by a U.N. investigation into the killing of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the United Nations tribunal, which he has condemned as an “Israeli project,” was likely to issue several waves of indictments against Hezbollah, which has denied any involvement in Hariri’s 2005 assassination.
“We are the ones against whom the accusation is made, and it’s not three (members),” Nasrallah said.
“A few days ago Lebanese security officials said the first indictment would be three, then after a while five, then the third (group) 20 and the fourth 50,” he told a Hezbollah gathering by video link.
Indictment of Hezbollah members for Hariri’s killing would put severe strains on Lebanon’s unity government, which is led by Hariri’s son Saad and includes Hezbollah ministers.
Nasrallah’s criticism of the U.N. tribunal earlier this month led to heated exchanges between Hezbollah allies and supporters of Hariri, who have strongly supported the international investigation.
President Michel Suleiman held four days of talks last week with political leaders to try to calm tensions, which echoed the deep divisions which led the country to the brink of renewed civil war in 2008.
In his latest attack on the U.N. tribunal, Nasrallah said investigators had not even tried to find out why several witnesses changed their testimony.
Evidence from one witness, Hosam Taher Hosam, initially implicated officials from Syria — a main backer of Hezbollah — but he later withdrew his testimony. The reliability of another, Syrian witness Mohammed Zuhair al-Siddiq, has been questioned.
Nasrallah said the fact that the U.N. investigation had not established why the witnesses changed their minds, or who might have been behind their original testimony, showed it was “not qualified to find the truth.”
“What do we suggest? Form a Lebanese commission, or parliamentary or judicial or ministerial or security commission to summon the witnesses … to ask them: Who led you? Who taught you? Who fabricated this for you?” Nasrallah said.
Last year the chief U.N. tribunal judge released four senior, pro-Syrian Lebanese officers after they had been held for four years without charge, saying that several witnesses had modified or retracted their original statements.
The U.N. investigation into Hariri’s killing first implicated Syrian and Lebanese officials, although it later held back from giving details of its findings.
Saad al-Hariri, who initially blamed Syria for his father’s death, has since tried to ease tensions with Syria and has made several trips to Damascus to meet President Bashar al-Assad. Syria has denied any involvement in Hariri’s killing.