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'False witnesses' and the truth

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Rafiq al-HaririBy Zeina Khodr

For the past five years, the world was led to believe that Syria was behind the massive car bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and 22 others in Beirut.

Now, Rafiq's son - Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri – said he had been wrong to accuse Damascus for the murder adding that the charges had been politically motivated.

Politically motivated or not – Hariri's climb down represented a shift in the balance of power in the region.

Hariri also admitted that witnesses who came forward after the bombing made "false testimonies" that pointed the finger of blame at Syria.

Even before the special international tribunal on the Hariri assassination was established, Syria and its Lebanon allies questioned its credibility alleging it was created for political motives.

Hariri's admission, however, was not enough for the Syrian leadership and the Lebanese opposition. They want the Lebanon government to try the so-called false witnesses to find out who was behind them since their statements misled the investigations.

The special Hariri court says it's no longer concerned with those witnesses since they made their testimonies to a UN investigation commission before the court was set up. But the opposition allege that is not enough to prove the tribunal is working objectively.

Some of the witnesses who came forward have since withdrawn their testimonies with a few saying they were made under duress.

"The government has admitted the existence of false witnesses but they do not want to try them because it is the one that made them," Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun said. |If the authorities were innocent, they would put them on trial and we would know the truth".

The Hariri murder caused shock waves in Lebanon and the wider region … The investigation is in danger of doing the same.

Unconfirmed reports say the court is preparing to indict members of the opposition group Hezbollah, a staunch ally of Syria.

Such an indictment – blaming members of a Shiite group for the murder of a Sunni prime minister – would be explosive and many warn of possible Sunni-Shiite strife.

The tribunal has divided this country – a division that has heightened political tensions just two years after a national unity government was formed.

But there has been little to show for that unity.

And while rival camps say they are seeking the truth … even before that is uncovered, the credibility of the investigation is in question.

Zeina Khodr is a roving Middle East correspondent based out of Doha.


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