- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2009

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group denied a report by a German magazine linking it to the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, saying Sunday that it was an attempt to tarnish its image before parliamentary elections.

The weekly Der Spiegel said Saturday’s report in was based on sources close to the international tribunal investigating the assassination and backed up by internal tribunal documents. It also said the tribunal investigation had concluded about a month ago that Hezbollah was involved but had kept the information secret because of the explosiveness of the allegations.

The report comes at a time of rising tensions before the crucial June 7 elections, which could result in the Western-backed government being ousted by a Hezbollah-led coalition supported by Syria and Iran.

Hezbollah said the Der Spiegel report was based on “fabrications.”

Mr. Hariri’s assassination has deeply divided the country. His supporters blamed Syria for the killing, a charge Damascus denies, but no one had ever accused Hezbollah of being involved.

Mr. Hariri was killed along with 22 others in a massive truck bombing on a Beirut street in February 2005. The billionaire businessman and longtime ally of Syria was quietly challenging Damascus’ three decades of domination over Lebanon at the time of his assassination.

His killing sparked a domestic and international outcry that forced Syria and its tens of thousands of troops out of the country.

An international tribunal on the assassinations began its work in the Netherlands in March.

A Hezbollah legislator dismissed the Der Spiegel report as “a big lie.”

“We are waiting for the international tribunal to react and to see where the German magazine got its information from,” Nawar Saheli told the Associated Press Sunday.

The group indirectly accused Israel of being the source, saying it thinks those who gave the magazine its information sought to draw attention away from Lebanon’s recent arrests of people suspected of spying on Hezbollah for Israel.

A spokeswoman for the Hariri tribunal declined comment on the Der Spiegel report.

“We do not address speculation,” Radia Achouri said in a telephone interview. “The only information that is reliable is provided by the prosecutor himself.”

Ms. Achouri said details of the investigation would remain confidential until the probe is completed.

The Der Spiegel report said the assassins used eight cellular telephones bought on the same day in the northern city of Tripoli. One of them made the mistake of calling his girlfriend with one of the phones, revealing his identity.

The report also linked the explosives and the truck used in the attack to Hezbollah.

Last month, four Lebanese generals were released by the tribunal. They had been the only suspects in custody.

“The magazine’s accusations are police fabrications made in the same black rooms that fabricated similar stories about the Syrians and the four generals,” Hezbollah’s statement said.

Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, a critic of Hezbollah, refused to comment on the report’s allegations.

“We want justice. We don’t give weight to any words said here or there,” Mr. Siniora told Al Arabiya TV.

Four years ago, U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis said the complexity of the assassination plot suggested a role by Syrian intelligence services and its pro-Syrian Lebanese counterpart.

During a news conference in Beirut, Mr. Mehlis had said Hezbollah was not involved in Hariri’s assassination. An early draft of a report that he issued in 2005 linked Syrian President Bashar Assad’s inner circle to the attack, but the two investigators who succeeded him did not repeat the accusations and said Syria was cooperating.

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