“In absentia,” the court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, convicted Ayyash, a member of Hezbollah, of the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, through an explosion targeting his motorcade in the capital Beirut, which also killed 21 other people, on February 14, 2005. In return for a conviction Ayyash, the court acquitted the other three defendants (Hassan Mari, Hussein Oneisi, and Assad Sabra), who are also members of Hezbollah, for lack of sufficient evidence, and it decided that neither the group’s leadership nor the Syrian regime was involved in the assassination of Hariri.
In the case, there was a fifth defendant, named Mustafa Badr al-Din, but it was proven to the court that he was killed in Syria, where Hezbollah is fighting alongside the Syrian regime forces, following the outbreak of a popular uprising in 2011, which provokes criticism of the group in Lebanon.
Mustafa Alloush, a leader in the Future Movement, led by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri (Rafik Hariri’s son), considered that “the court’s decision is a condemnation of Hezbollah, unless the guilty party is extradited (Ayyash).
Alloush added in a press statement, “Originally, Hezbollah did not recognize the court … the court acquitted the accused (the other three) for failing to obtain conclusive evidence confirming that the court has high credibility.”
“The culprit and the convicted person, Salim Ayyash, is one of the cadres of Hezbollah, and the party alone knows what it is doing and where it is, and if the party wants to prove its good faith, it must hand over Ayyash .. But, certainly Hezbollah will not hand him over.”
The court set September 21 as the date for issuing the punishment against Ayyash. The pronouncement of the verdict or the sentence does not mean the end of the court’s work, because it opened another case last year, accusing Ayyash of “terrorism and murder” in three other attacks that targeted politicians between 2004 and 2005.
In response to a question about the Future Movement’s steps if Hezbollah did not extradite Ayyash, Alloush replied that “the court is the one that decides how to pursue the case. As for the politician, Saad Hariri confirmed that the days of sacrifices (on his part) are over.”
After the court’s decision, Hariri said that “the sacrifice must be made today by Hezbollah, as it has become clear that the network of killers has left its ranks,” stressing that he will not settle until the perpetrator is handed over to justice and the punishment is implemented.
The formation of the International Tribunal from the outset sparked controversy and division in Lebanon between supporters of it who were allies of Hariri and others from Hezbollah’s allies who questioned its credibility. The result of the ruling in The Hague could complicate the already volatile situation after the August 4 explosion and the resignation of the government backed by Hezbollah and its allies.
Regarding the Lebanese authorities ’position on the international court’s decision, Bechara Khairallah, a political analyst, believes that“ the court’s decision is technical. “.
And he added, “Hezbollah must extradite the criminal … and the political and executive authority in Lebanon must implement the court’s decision and prosecute Ayyash and demand his extradition.” The Iranian-backed Shiite Hezbollah group denies any involvement in the February 14, 2005 bombing. The writer and political analyst Asaad Bishara ruled out that Hezbollah would hand over Ayyash, saying, “Certainly not, but this matter entails responsibility for the state, and if the state does not surrender the criminal, it becomes Outside international legitimacy ”.
For his part, Ali Al-Amin, an anti-Hezbollah political analyst, said, “Based on what the court presented, Hezbollah is guilty of the Hariri assassination.” According to Al-Amin, any reader of this ruling is well aware that it is a condemnation of the party, not in the legal sense, because the nature of this court is that it tries individuals, but just to convict an official in the party, this in itself is an indictment. In his opinion, this crime cannot be carried out by one person, there is a whole team that has planned it, and therefore because the individual on whom the verdict is established belongs to Hezbollah, there is a moral condemnation of the party.
The investigation and trial process in absentia for the four Hezbollah members took 15 years and cost nearly one billion dollars. The hybrid court based on Lebanese criminal law and a mix of international and Lebanese judges could be a model if Beirut decides to establish a similar court to try those responsible for this month’s bombing.
On the opposite side, Qassem Qasir, a political analyst close to Hezbollah, said that “the international court did not convict Hezbollah in its ruling.” “The court has no evidence of any role for Hezbollah in the assassination,” Kassir added.
When asked whether “Hezbollah” would disavow Ayyash, who is a leader in the party, he replied, “I do not think. The party considers that it is not concerned with the court in general, and it does not trust it.”
On Friday, Hassan Nasrallah anticipated the issuance of the international court’s decision, saying that he would deal with the decision “as if it had not been issued”.
Among the two parties ’interpretations of the court’s decision, former Lebanese Minister of Justice Charles Rizk said,“ This ruling is not considered a victory for any political party over the other, given that this decision is legal and judicial, and the International Court judges people and does not prosecute states, institutions, or organizations. ”
He concluded by saying, “We respect the judicial decisions, and whoever feels affected by the decision can appeal the ruling.”
With Hariri adhering to retribution, and Hizbullah not recognizing the court, many Lebanese files, of regional and international dimensions, seem dependent on the implementation of the punishment that the court will take.