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ICG warns of Lebanon's fragmentation

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon could threaten the country's fragile balance, warns a recently issued international report

Dina Ezzat, Monday 6 Dec 2010
Hezbollah troops
A pending indictment by the STL could stir the sectarian pot in Lebanon.(AP)
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Amid tense speculation regarding the pending indictment to be made by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), understood to directly or indirectly implicate members of Hezbollah in the assassination of Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, the International Crisis Group (ICG) releases a report, warning of possible negative consequences.

In the report, "Lebanon's trial by fire", the ICG cautions that a possible indictment of Hezbollah members in the Hariri case could ignite an armed conflict between the Sunnis and Shias of Lebanon. The report issued over the weekend also acknowledges that Lebanese current Prime Minister Saad Hariri – the son of Rafiq Hariri – is in a sticky situation as he can neither fully adopt the report, for fear of civilian clashes, nor can he turn his back on it, for fear both of the opposition's political hegemony and unavoidable Sunni outrage.

The report, according to an ICG press release "recommends a compromise that places the indictments in the public domain; preserves Hariri’s credibility without provoking Hezbollah".

The same release quotes Peter Harling, the ICG project director for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon as saying that “any realistic way out would cost everyone something while preserving what is essential” the fragile sectarian balance.

The report recognises that a deal is difficult but it still offers alternatives: Lebanon could request the Security Council to halt STL activities once indictments have been issued, for the sake of domestic stability.

"Riyadh and Damascus are said to be working on a compromise," the report states.

Another alternative is that Lebanon could condition further cooperation with the STL on the tribunal taking certain steps, including a possible agreement by the court to look into Hezbollah’s “false witnesses” claim – a reference to Lebanese sources that supposedly mislead the STL into indicting Hezbollah members.

Without a deal, Lebanon must brace for certain tough times, the report suggests. "It is hard to see who can emerge victorious in Lebanon’s latest crisis," it states.

The ICG report belittles the chances of the STL to make a peaceful breakthrough in the administration of internal Lebanese politics. It suggests that notions such as eliminating Hezbollah or marginalising the role of Syria are rather unrealistic objectives. It, however, throws light on changes that have already happened on the ground either in terms of Lebanese internal politics or the role of Syria – both in Lebanon and regionally.

Meanwhile, Ahram Online sources in The Hague noted that the indictment that was supposed to be issued around the middle of this month might be delayed until after the New Year holidays in line with a joint French-Saudi-Syrian understanding

"There is an attempt to arrive at a deal in which Hezbollah would agree to the indictment to be issued by the SLT and Hariri government would question it," said an Arab diplomatic source who spoke to Ahram Online from Beirut.

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