The Special Tribunal for Lebanon will allow prosecutors to present evidence on the deterioration of relations between former premier Rafik Hariri and Syrian President Bashar Assad, paving the way for the first courtroom examination of Syria’s alleged role in the Hariri assassination.
Defense lawyers characterized the admission of the evidence as a “sea change” and major expansion in the scope of the Hariri case, saying prosecutors were now pointing to Syria as being ultimately behind the assassination.
“Let us not be coy about it: The prosecutor now is putting his case on the basis of Syria being behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri,” said Iain Edwards, a defense lawyer for Mustafa Badreddine, a senior Hezbollah operative accused of complicity in the attack. “With such a dramatic change of course, the defense now has, to a very significant extent, to consider how the rest of its trial strategy is to be amended.”
In an oral ruling, the trial chamber’s Presiding Judge David Re said the court will hear the evidence of MP Marwan Hamade, who survived an assassination attempt in late 2004, on Monday.
Hamade is the first of over a dozen politicians, journalists and advisers of Hariri who are scheduled to give testimony in the coming months detailing tensions in the relationship between Syria and Lebanon, aimed at pinpointing a political motive for the 2005 Valentine’s Day bombing that rocked Lebanon and sparked massive street protests that ended Syria’s occupation of its smaller neighbor.
Edwards said prosecutors were now clearly pointing in the direction of Assad’s security apparatus as being the focal point of the conspiracy to assassinate Hariri.
“The Syrian connection, [or] element, of the prosecution's case is indeed a material fact underpinning the charges and therefore ought to have been pleaded in the indictment,” he said.
“Is Bashar Assad going to be formally named as a co-conspirator in the killing of Rafik Hariri? Rustom Ghazaleh? Are they going to be added to the indictment?” he asked.
Ghazaleh, head of Syrian military intelligence, had allegedly threatened to break Hariri’s arm if he did not support the extension for former President Emile Lahoud.
No Syrian official has ever been charged in connection with the Hariri assassination. The Hague-based court indicted five members of Hezbollah instead, and their trial in absentia is ongoing.
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